Cookies on the Healthspan site
'According to recent UK study, regular moderate exercise can enhance the efficiency of natural killer cells that attack viruses, so reducing the risk of catching colds and flu', says Dean Hodgkin, Fitness Expert, Ragdale Hall and Energie Fitness. However don't overdo it; 'prolonged intense exercise can actually damage natural killer cells' activity', he adds.
Regular exercise has also been found to increase the range of bacteria in the gut, which can help the immune system work more efficiently. 'Aim for 30 minutes, five days a week,' says Dean. 'If this is too much all in one go, three bouts of 10 minutes are just as beneficial.' Try a mix of cardiovascular exercise (walking, jogging cycling), strength training (free or fixed weights, Body Pump and Pilates), and flexibility (yoga, tai chi, Body Balance).
'Certain vitamins and minerals play a key role in a strong immune system - especially vitamins A, B12, B6, C and D, and minerals copper, folate, iron, selenium and zinc,' says Dr Sarah Brewer. Studies show that older people who take a daily multivitamin have better immune function, with a better response to flu jabs and significantly fewer colds and respiratory infections, compared with those not taking multivitamin supplements.
Echinacea is a traditional herbal remedy that increases the number and activity of white blood cells which are the cells that are responsible for attacking infections. Data from 14 studies suggests that echinacea decreases the odds of developing a cold by up to half. If symptoms of a cold, bronchitis or sinusitis do develop, pelargonium extracts - another traditional herbal remedy - can help alleviate symptoms.
Nutrition is a key contributor to a healthy immune system, needed to keep your body in balance and help combat infection, according to the British Journal of Nutrition. 'A Mediterranean diet based around vegetables, fruit, pulses, cereals, nuts and seeds, with moderate amounts of fish, seafood, yogurt, cheese, poultry and eggs, and a low intake of red and processed meats, is ideal to ensure you get a range of vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals', says nutritionist Patsy Westcott.
'Include citrus fruit, for vitamin C and immune-boosting plant chemicals. Put broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and other members of the cruciferous family on the menu too.' To drink? Wine and grape juice to help maintain immune function, according to research.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.