The lifestyle one adheres to determines their quality of life. We may not be able to prevent every disease but we can definitely reduce the risk of several chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disorders, hypertension and certain types of cancers with a robust immune system. A healthy lifestyle also leads to better mental health and increases longevity, so that you can live your life to the fullest.

While gut health and genetics do have a role in influencing immunity, the main parameters that determine the sort of lifestyle we are following are the type of diet we consume and physical activity levels we maintain. 

Here’s how they’re related to immunity.

How can your diet help boost immune system?

A balanced diet that provides sufficient amounts of all the required nutrients goes a long way in building a strong immune system(1). Protein plays a vital role in the functioning of the immune system; for example, antibodies that are released to fight infections are nothing but proteins. Making sure there is a sufficient intake of good-quality protein in the necessary quantities is of utmost importance. 

Several components of the diet – such as antioxidants, micronutrients, adaptogens, probiotics and prebiotics – contribute towards the efficient functioning of the immune system.

How can antioxidants have a positive effect on immunity?

Immune system cells, like any other cells in the body, require oxygen radicals for metabolic and physiological processes. The free radical production and their inactivation via antioxidants has to be balanced for good health. If there is an imbalance because of a lack of antioxidants, it may lead to weakening of the immune system because of oxidative stress (2). We’ve gone into further detail about it here.

Adequate dietary antioxidant supplementation may have a beneficial effect in correcting or preventing the imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the immune system cells(2). Micronutrients such as vitamin E, vitamin C, iron, zinc, selenium and copper are dietary antioxidants. 

How can probiotics and prebiotics have a positive effect on immunity?

Probiotics are beneficial bacterial species such as mainly Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, which are thought to promote health.

A prebiotic is a non-digestible food ingredient which favourably affects the host by selectively encouraging the growth and activity of bacteria in the large intestine that can benefit host health. Prebiotics are a group of nutrients such as fructo-oligosaccharides and galacto-oligosaccharides that are degraded by gut microbiota(3). Prebiotics are present in foods like wheat, onion, banana, garlic and chicory(4)

Probiotics and prebiotics, together, influence the composition and growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut; they help maintain the microbiome equilibrium. It is extremely important to pay attention to what one eats so that one’s diet promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and, thereby, boosts the immune system too.

How can adaptogens have a positive effect on immunity?

Adaptogens are biologically-active substances from herbs which have therapeutically beneficial effect on the body, including the immune system(5).

Here are some adaptogens with medicinal value which have been used for a long time. 

Withania somnifera also known as Ashwagandha (Indian Ginseng) whose root is used as an adaptogen. It was observed to have immune-stimulatory effects.

Azadirachta indica is commonly known as Neem Zingiber, and has an immunomodulatory effect(6)

Taking adaptogens as dietary supplements would boost immune system.

How can regular physical activity boost immune system?

Evidence suggests that regular, moderate physical activity has a beneficial effect on the immune system(7). Regular exercise improves immune competency as observed in human vaccination studies, that show an increase in response to bacterial and viral antigens after an exercise session(8). It was concluded that acute exercise does not suppress immune system, but actually improves immune competency.

Simply put-

We’ve already underscored why it’s high time we understand our immune system for overall health and quality of life; it’s also time to realise that poor lifestyle choices contribute to weakened immunity, amongst other things

By taking the measures we’ve mentioned above, it is possible to stave off a range of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.