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February 04, 2022

A healthy lifestyle provides many benefits – like a boosted immune system

Research suggests a nutritious diet, regular exercise and good sleep habits can strengthen immunity, but they're not substitutes for vaccinations

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
Healthy Lifestyles Immune System Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

Getting vaccinated is the best defense against many deadly illnesses, including COVID-19. But research suggests a healthy lifestyle can provide an additional boost and benefit many other parts of the body.

Guys, getting vaccinated, including a booster, is your best defense against COVID-19. No question. As husbands, partners, fathers, grandfathers, uncles and individuals that people look to for guidance, you have a responsibility to lead by example. 

Yes, you need to start with your own health so you can be there for others, but it's not just about you. Believe it or not, in some form or fashion, you have a loving constituency to consider.

So, let's assume you agree. You're vaccinated, boosted and you've encouraged others in your life to do the same. What else? Is there anything to supplement these preventative measures? 

Well, it turns out that there is a very natural way to do just that – live healthy. Harvard Medical School says good health practices may strengthen the immune system – in addition to helping other parts of your body.

Immunity 101

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes the immune system as a network of cells, tissues and organs. It produces antibodies to help fight infections, like COVID-19, and protect you from getting sick in the future. Vaccines prompt the immune system to make antibodies. Once you have antibodies to a particular disease, they provide protection from that disease. If you do get sick, having antibodies can help you from getting severely ill.

Contracting a disease, like COVID-19, is another way that your immune system builds antibodies. This is called natural immunity, but it obviously carries the risks of being ill. That's why public health officials stress vaccination as the best protection. 

There is also research that supports the case for vaccination even after experiencing a case of COVID-19. Because immunity can wane over time, more seems to be better

According to a Johns Hopkins study on natural immunity, antibodies stayed stronger for longer periods in those who contracted COVID-19 and then were fully vaccinated compared to vaccinated people who did not have COVID-19 beforehand. Additionally, a CDC study released last month found that during the delta surge, people who were vaccinated after having COVID-19 were the least likely to be infected. 

The CDC also reports that boosters are an effective means to sustain immunity and prevent severe illness from COVID-19. They recommend boosters for everyone ages 12 and older.

Though I'm an advocate for vaccinations, and the thought of risking serious illness from contracting COVID is not the preferred way, this research shows the benefits of enhanced immunity. Upgrading your immunity by practicing healthy habits, particularly in view of all of the other benefits you'll derive, is a pathway to consider.

Strengthening immunity through your lifestyle

So, who are these experts and what are they saying about the natural strategies that help your immune system? Here's the rundown. 

The CDC says that healthy routines like eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep help enhance the immune system while also preventing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases. 

The Mayo Clinic advocates for healthy self-care strategies that can help strengthen the immune system and limit inflammation. They characterize these activities, which range from stress management to smoking cessation, as building immune resilience. 

Similarly, the University of Maryland Medical System and the Cleveland Clinic also note that creating a healthy lifestyle can support optimal immune function. 

Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers a number of rituals that can reinforce a healthy immune system. Readers of my articles will find them familiar. Included is eating a balanced diet, regular exercise and drinking alcohol in moderation. Stress management through practices like hobbies, conversation with friends, and conscious breathing are tactics also cited by the school.

Adding to the value proposition

Healthy behavior is not a substitute for a vaccination. It's a supplement. I don't want the anti-vaxxers to think that you can exercise or eat your way to the immunity needed to fight COVID. You can't. That said, a natural boost on top of the vaccine, in view of the other benefits, strengthens the value-proposition and the "why" for living healthy.

Now, while the Harvard researchers say good health practices may provide a boost to your immune system, they acknowledge there is still much to learn about the intricacies of the immune response, and that there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function. Nevertheless, they, along with the other prestigious medical organizations I've cited, believe that the connection makes sense and is very likely. I'll side with them.

Your call

So, if the thought of reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity is of interest, and on top of this you'd like to improve the efficiency of your immune system, you might want to consider starting a healthy regimen. 

We all need motivation to start and sustain healthy behaviors. Perhaps the prospect of a prolonged pandemic or other viruses in the future will cause more men to change their patterns. If you’re not there already, make immunity the trigger to get you on the path to the health and happiness you want.

Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website. 

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