NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Nourish Your Immune System

health, immune system

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

We spend more time indoors during the colder winter weather, which makes us more likely to pick up germs and get sick. No one likes to get sick. So what can you do to stay healthy this winter?

Our immune system functions throughout our entire body to protect us from infections such as the common cold to serious health conditions. Some immune cells (white blood cells) circulate through the body and others reside in specific tissues (spleen, tonsils). The skin is our body’s first line of defense against germs. Our skin cells produce proteins that can fight off germs. Immune cells also recognize other substances that enter our bodies and attempt to remove them if the substance appears to be harmful to us.

Keeping your immune system running properly takes a lot of effort. Proper nutrition is one important factor in making sure your immune system functions as it should.

Eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods to help your immune system do its job. Fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients that are important for immune health. Strive for a colorful plate at each meal. Varying the colors of fruits and vegetables you choose can provide your body with the vitamins, minerals and fiber it needs.

For the average adult who gets less than 30 minutes of physical activity per day, the recommendation is 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables each day for females and 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables each day for males.

Variety is a key component of any healthful diet. While fruits and vegetables are important, you also need to incorporate the other food groups in your diet. Round out the rest of your meal with low-fat dairy, whole grains and lean protein to get all of the nutrients your immune system needs.

Tips to Keep Your Immune System Healthy

  1. Wash your hands often. Scrub for at least 20 seconds with soap. Did you know? Cold viruses can survive on indoor surfaces for up to seven days, with their ability to cause infection decreasing after 24 hours. Infectious flu viruses can survive on the hands for 15 minutes and on hard surfaces for 24 hours. Flu viruses also can survive as air droplets for several hours.
  2. Exercise regularly. Aim for about 30 minutes of moderate activity on five or more days of the week. 
  3. Eat a healthful diet. Find out which foods provide these nutrients on the “Nourish Your Immune System” handout (http://tinyurl.com/NDSUimmunesystem).
  4. Get plenty of sleep. Keep a regular sleep schedule and aim for at least seven hours a night. Keep your bedroom at an appropriate temperature. Sign off from your technology at least an hour before bedtime.
  5. Keeping your home clean also can help prevent the growth and spread of bacteria. Set up a cleaning schedule to make sure you aren’t missing any areas in your home.

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU professor and food and nutrition specialist

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