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Immunity refers to the ability of an organism to resist infection by acting against the disease-causing microorganisms. This is enabled by the action of antibodies against the pathogen (disease-causing organisms like bacteria, virus, etc) or sensitization of white blood cells (WBCs), which rise to fight against infection in the body.

Immunity is of several types. It may be present since birth (innate immunity) or acquired at a later stage of life after exposure to a pathogen or by direct administration of antibodies (acquired immunity). It may be natural (acquired by exposure to the disease-causing agent) or synthetic (acquired by vaccination against a disease). It is also categorized as active or passive. In the former, the vaccine is administered to the individual and the latter constitutes the injection of antibodies directly.

Infection once caused easily spreads from person-to-person by direct contact or indirect contact through the belongings of the diseased. Infection may also spread through air, droplets and other mediums.

So, an individual with better immunity against diseases not only protects himself/herself but the community as a whole, as per the concept of herd or community immunity.

Other than vaccination against diseases and a live encounter with disease-causing organisms, you can also improve your immunity by taking care of your diet and a lot of good habits, which we'll discuss ahead.

  1. Cessation of smoking
  2. Exercise and immunity
  3. Immunity and stress
  4. Sleep for immunity
  5. Yoga for immunity
  6. Immunity and alcohol
Doctors for How to boost immunity: what to do and home remedies

Cigarettes contain nicotine, which is a substance having immunosuppressive actions, that is, it reduces the activity of the immune system, making you more prone to diseases and infections. This occurs due to epithelial injury breaking your epithelial immune response.

Smoking is commonly related to an increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections. It has also been recognised to be a significant risk factor for the development of lung cancer, especially in men. Cancer is further known to be immunosuppressive, affecting the immunity of the individual and increasing the likelihood of infections in them.

(Read more: How to quit smoking)

Physical activity and exercise are closely linked, as evidenced by the fact that physically active individuals and those with a better lifestyle are less likely to be diseased. But, what mechanisms protect them from illnesses?

Research evidence has demonstrated that an increase in the levels of physical activity or exercise facilitates an increased level of circulating antibodies and WBCs, which serve a protective function in your body. It helps in the early recognition of infectious agents and a better immune function.

Moreover, physical activity momentarily raises body temperatures, which may be unfavorable to the growth of microorganisms, reducing the chances of infection. Intense physical activities may also allow your body to flush out bacteria through your airways and lungs, reducing the likelihood of respiratory infections and other illnesses. Another theory suggests that exercise helps in reducing the levels of cortisol, or the stress hormone, which is closely linked with compromised immune functioning.

Here is how you can incorporate physical activities in your daily routine to boost your immune functioning:

  • A 30-minute brisk walk or run
  • Bicycling or trekking
  • Playing with kids or pets
  • Practicing training sessions at the gym, with the help of an instructor
  • Aerobics or Zumba
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Walking to shorter distances and always using the staircase instead of an elevator

These exercises may be helpful in boosting the immunity of healthy individuals. If you are immunocompromised or suffer from any chronic illnesses or an infection, you are recommended to seek your physician’s consultation before indulging in any form of physical activity. Intense physical workouts or rigorous training must be avoided at all times, since the results may be counterintuitive.

Stress is likely to cause immune dysfunction, which varies according to the type of stressor (agent causing stress) and the duration of exposure. This may increase the likelihood of developing chronic diseases in some individuals. So, managing your stress with the help of meditation, relaxation and yoga may help regulate your immune function.

(Read more: Home remedies for stress)

The benefits of adequate nocturnal sleep have been known in aiding better body functions and reducing fatigue. Research evidence further suggests its relation with immune function. Proper sleep is beneficial in enabling immune memory, which is responsible for appropriate immune action on repeated exposure to a particular pathogen, incurring immunity against it. Prolonged reduction in sleep and dysregulation in the circadian rhythm (biological clocks responsible for sleep) may result in immunodeficiency. So, it is recommended to take 7 to 10 hours of sleep to optimise immune function.

(Read more: Insomnia treatment)

Yoga has been practiced since ancient times in India, due to its benefits on various body functions. It is known to regulate digestion, respiration, posture and is a potent stress buster. Stress, which has been recognized to reduce immune functions, can be easily managed by simple yoga techniques like anulom vilom, when practiced daily. Anulom vilom is a simple alternate nostril breathing technique, which is responsible for the flow of energy or prana in the body. Stress reduction achieved by this technique may help in improving immune functions in healthy individuals.

If you regularly drink a lot of alcohol every day, it can weaken your immune system and your risk of falling ill increases manifold. Alcohol upsets the balance between good bacteria and bad bacteria in your gut and increases the risk of liver inflammation. Not only this but drinking too much alcohol also weakens your body's ability to fight viral and bacterial infections. In addition, excessive consumption of alcohol also increases the risk of pneumonia and other lung diseases.

Dr. Ravinder Jit Singh

Dr. Ravinder Jit Singh

General Physician
2 Years of Experience

Dr. Keyur Maganbhai Patel

Dr. Keyur Maganbhai Patel

General Physician
5 Years of Experience

Dr. Shrishti Kumar

Dr. Shrishti Kumar

General Physician
3 Years of Experience

Dr.Nikhil Patil

Dr.Nikhil Patil

General Physician
4 Years of Experience

References

  1. Luciana Besedovsky, Tanja Lange, Jan Born.Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Arch. 2012 Jan; 463(1): 121–137. PMID: 22071480
  2. Jennifer N. Morey, Ian A. Boggero, April B. Scott, Suzanne C. Segerstrom. Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function. Curr Opin Psychol. 2015 Oct 1; 5: 13–17. PMID: 26086030
  3. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Exercise and immunity
  4. Better health channel. Department of Health and Human Services [internet]. State government of Victoria; Immune system explained
  5. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Immunity Types
  6. Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition. New York: Garland Science; 2002. Innate Immunity.
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