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8 Ways to Support a Healthy Immune System, According to Harvard

The university's school of public health just released its all-new "Healthy Living Guide."
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

Between the cold and flu season and the novel coronavirus (and its new variants), everyone is looking for ways they can better support their immune system—and fast.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently released its Healthy Living Guide 2020/2021 and within the issue is a section devoted to nutrition and immunity. Below, you will see the eight tips for a healthy immune system included in this year's report. And then, don't miss The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

1

Try the Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean diet
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It's not a coincidence that the Mediterranean Diet is routinely named the best overall diet by U.S. News. in its annual Best Diets Rankings. With an emphasis on heart-healthy fats sourced from olive oil, fish, and nuts, as well as lean animal proteins including poultry, and plenty of fruits and vegetables, it's more than just a diet—it's a lifestyle.

Eating a well-balanced diet, such as the Mediterranean Diet, can help to ensure you're getting all of the vitamins and essential minerals your body needs.

For more, be sure to check out 14 Best Diets For Weight Loss in 2021, According to Experts.

2

Take a multivitamin for extra support

ritual multivitamin
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In the event that you can't get all of your nutrients through diet alone—this is especially the case for those who have dietary restrictions or follow restrictive diets—the experts at Harvard suggest taking a multivitamin. Taking one supplement that contains the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for several vitamins and minerals may be safer than taking several, separate ones.

"Megadose supplements (many times the RDA) do not appear justified, and can sometimes be harmful or even suppress the immune system (e.g. as with zinc)," the experts write in the report. "Remember that supplements are not a substitute for a good diet because no supplements contain all the benefits of healthful foods."

3

Stop smoking

Cigarettes in ashtray.
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According to the CDC, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States. And, as Harvard points out in this year's report, those who follow five key habits (eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining healthy body weight, not drinking too much alcohol, and not smoking) live an estimated 10 years longer than those who don't.

4

Drink alcohol in moderation

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For many adults, starting the evening with a glass of red or whiskey is just what they need to unwind from a stressful day at work. However, even just consuming one glass of alcohol each day can lead to health complications. However, there are health benefits associated with regularly drinking a glass of antioxidant-rich red wine. So, to compromise, Harvard suggests drinking in moderation.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines, which received some heat from the scientific community, still suggest that women limit their intake to just one serving (or less) of alcohol per day while men can enjoy up to two drinks. The guidelines, which are updated every five years, did not change for alcohol consumption, despite increasing evidence that the substance can up the risk of certain cancers.

5

Do moderate exercise, regularly

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The health benefits of exercise are truly endless, and while most are quite obvious, there are several that are lesser-known. For example, did you know that doing just 30 minutes of moderate exercise, three to four days per week could help prevent osteoporosis later in life? Osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs as a result of either the body losing too much bone, not producing enough bone, or a combination of the two.

"Research strongly supports its benefits across a range of physical and mental health conditions for people of all ages," the guide says.

Some exercise is better than none, but try to incorporate a mix of aerobic and cardiovascular physical activity (walking or jogging), muscle-strengthening activity (lifting weights), flexibility training (yoga), and balance training (standing on a wobble board) when possible. For ideas, be sure to check out 25 Easy Exercises That Make You Feel Better.

6

Make a sleep schedule

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Getting enough quality sleep each night is critical for supporting your immune system. Several experts recommend aiming to get anywhere between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Harvard experts go one step further by suggesting you try and keep a sleep schedule, meaning you go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, in an effort to improve sleep.

"Our body clock, or circadian rhythm, regulates feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness, so having a consistent sleep schedule maintains a balanced circadian rhythm so that we can enter deeper, more restful sleep," the experts say.

As the report notes, many studies have shown that a lack of sleep can cause a significant increase in cortisol (the stress hormone) levels. Make sure to avoid exercising or drinking alcohol in the evenings to help promote better sleep. In addition, stop drinking caffeine between four and six hours before bedtime and avoid eating a heavy meal or snack before bed as well.

7

Make it a point to manage stress

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Not only can getting enough sleep each night reduce stress but there are even things you can do throughout the day to help manage cortisol levels. For example, you could meditate, do yoga, or even go for a light walk or run. Another idea? Try to practice regular, conscious breathing throughout the day, but especially when you feel stress coming on.

8

Routinely wash your hands

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One of the key things we all learned to get better at last year was washing our hands thoroughly. No matter where you are or what you're doing, you could always benefit from a thorough scrubbing of the hands or some hand sanitizer.

For more tips and tricks, be sure to read 30 Best Immune-Boosting Foods.

Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the news editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in food and drink coverage, and breaking down the science behind the latest health studies and information. Read more