Immunity has become a hot topic as we continue to navigate through the new normal. When it comes to one’s health and wellness, there are many things to consider: we need to ensure that we get enough rest and sleep, put nourishing food into our bodies, engage in regular exercise, take care of our mental health, and manage our stress levels.

Each of these factors play a role in our overall well-being. But where do you start, and where can you find reliable advice on these topics?

To answer frequently asked questions related to immune health, we gathered together a few of our experts and scientific leaders to share the best ways to keep your immune system working optimally so it can do what it’s meant to do: defending your body.

Nutrition and Immunity FAQs

These questions were answered by Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training.

What foods can boost the immune system?

Most people know that protein is needed to build and maintain muscle mass and it also helps make meals more satisfying. But protein is an important player in keeping your immune system healthy, too. Specialized cells in your immune system are proteins, so your body needs protein from the diet in order to manufacture them.

Fruits and vegetables are sources of vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins A and C which support immune function. Along with healthy whole grains, fruits and vegetables also provide plenty of fiber which supports digestive health – an important factor in immune function, since we have immune cells that line our digestive tracts.

Fermented foods, such as yogurt, pickled vegetables and tempeh, provide natural probiotics (the so-called “good bacteria”) that populate the digestive tract. The good bacteria support immune health by crowding out other bacteria that can potentially make you sick.

What are some good nutrition habits to keep in mind while going for a quick grocery run?

Balanced meals do not have to be elaborate, but should include a healthy source of protein, a vegetable or fruit, and some source of healthy whole grain and healthy fats.

Choose healthy proteins from low-fat plant or animal sources, such as fish/shellfish, lean meats, poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy products, and soy products such as tofu and tempeh. Protein powders can also be used to make smoothies or stir into other dishes.

Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients that support immunity, so a good goal is to include at least one fruit or vegetable with every meal and snack. The fiber in fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils and whole grains act as food for the good bacteria, so plenty of fiber is critically important, too.  To make it easier and more convenient to get these healthy foods, add some canned beans to your cart, and pick up some loose-pack frozen fruits and veggies that you can easily add to cereal, yogurt, smoothies, soups, and stir-fries.

Healthy fats from foods like nuts, avocado or fruit or seed oils (such as olive or canola) help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamin A, and provide the necessary fatty acids to support the integrity of every cell in your body.

Ensure that you are drinking plenty of liquids throughout the day and keep in mind that tea and coffee count towards your daily fluid intake.

Exercise and Immunity FAQs

These questions were answered by Samantha Clayton, OLY, ISSA-CPT – Vice President, Worldwide Sports Performance and Fitness.

How does exercise affect our immune system?

“Exercise stress,” when managed well, is a healthy stress that over time pushes your body to adapt and become stronger and more efficient. Some studies suggest exercising on a regular basis is beneficial for immunological health, as it can have a positive effect on your body’s ability to remain well and fight off common illness.

Other studies have found that during flu season, the temporary rise in body temperature can discourage certain bacterial growth and the stress relief benefits of exercise helps to keep you feeling at your best.

Why is it important to exercise regularly during these stressful times?

Exercise improves overall health and sense of well-being, and it’s also is a great way to combat stress. Social distancing doesn’t mean you should stop working out. In fact, working out will likely help you keep a feeling of normalcy and protect your psyche while you’re at home.

Exercise will help you maintain a centered and more rational mindset. You can work out anywhere no matter how much space you have. All you need is your own bodyweight and exercises where minimal equipment is required.

Use this downtime to practice self-care, and to make time to take care of your body. Don’t let yourself miss out on all of the wonderful health benefits associated with exercise. But remember, if you are sick and choose to work out, listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard with your exercise routine, or you can risk a temporary decline in immunological function.   

Mental Well-being and Immunity FAQs

These questions were answered by Gary Small, M.D. – Member, Herbalife Nutrition Advisory Board and author of The Memory Bible.

Has social distancing influenced mental health during this time?

According to a recent survey, 88 percent of organizations have encouraged or required staff to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting social isolation can lead to emotional, physical and mental fatigue, thus elevating stress levels.

Over time, humans have evolved into social beings, surrounding ourselves with family, friends, and groups with similar interests to help cope with life’s stressors and manage their mental health. Although we are now in the digital age where technology allows us to stay connected, we still desire human interaction, involving touch and in-person gatherings, to keep us mentally healthy, so it’s not surprising that many of us are experiencing anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

Recognizing stress in ourselves and knowing how to manage it is particularly important today because chronic stress threatens our well-being and weakens the immune system’s ability to fight off infections. Stress also can have a negative impact on physical and mental health.

How can we boost our mental well-being?

There are ways to cope with stress and better manage feelings and reduce worries during this time of uncertainty. Taking a walk, listening to music or finding a quiet place to relax can help you reset your mental state and go back to tackling the day’s tasks.

It’s also important to take time to unwind by participating in activities you enjoy or shifting your focus on something novel to help you relax and feel energized.

Stress and Immune Health FAQs

These questions were answered by Kent L. Bradley, M.D., MBA, MPH – Chief Health and Nutrition Officer.

How does stress impact our immune health?

Acute stress can be both helpful and harmful to our body. It can be helpful as it forces us to be vigilant in protecting ourselves and our loved ones. It can be harmful because it causes our blood pressure to rise and our heart rate to increase, and for those who have underlying cardiovascular disease, this may trigger a heart attack or stroke.

However, what is of greater concern is a state of chronic stress, such as many people are experiencing in this time of uncertainty. In this state, the body is continuously activated, resulting in elevated blood pressure and weight gain, which are factors in cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, cortisol is known to reduce the production of our immune protective cells known as lymphocytes. In the acute phase, we may actually see an increase of these cells, but as we move to a more chronic state of stress the cortisol release leads us to a decrease of lymphocytes making us potentially more susceptible to ineffectively fighting off infection.

How can we reduce stress?

Focusing on reducing our stress and improving our health can be accomplished with a handful of simple practices. I call them my 6 Rs:

David Heber

David HeberM.D., Ph.D., FACP, FASN – Chairman, Herbalife Nutrition Institute

Dr. David Heber is the chairman of the Herbalife Nutrition Institute (HNI), which promotes excellence in nutrition education for the public and scientific community and sponsors scientific symposia. The HNI Editorial Board is made up of key scientific opinion leaders from around the world in the fields of nutrition, exercise physiology, behavioral medicine and public health. Dr. Heber holds a degree in chemistry, an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and a Ph.D. in physiology from UCLA.* In his spare time, he enjoys golfing, reading and painting. Dr. Heber’s favorite Herbalife products are Formula 1 Healthy Meal Nutritional Shake Mix, Herbalife Personalized Protein Powder and the SKIN product line.

*The University of California does not endorse specific products or services as a matter of policy.