Interval Training For Your Immune System
Research has shown that endurance athletes such as marathon runners or triathletes have a dip in their immune function and mood in the days following a race? This suggests that the impact of pushing their bodies and minds to the limits of their endurance has a temporary negative effect on physiological and psychological balance.
As we enter the cold and flu season it is useful to ask yourself if your life feels like an endurance event. For me, the fall is often the busiest time of year at work and at home. I start to feel like I really need to pace myself to keep from getting run-down both physically and emotionally. If this sounds like your life read on for tips on how to do interval training for your immune system.
The four pillars of immune system training are regular exercise, diet, hydration and deep breathing.
- Exercise– While excessive sitting and inactivity has been proven to be detrimental to our health so is grinding out long hours at your desk without taking a break. Instead of behaving like a marathon runner be more like an olympic sprinter and do short bursts of exercise balanced by longer bursts of potent, focused work. All you need is 2-10 minutes of activity a few times a day to boost your immune system’s white cell count and resistance to germs and viruses.
- Diet– Eat more whole fruits and veggies as snacks and at meals, that’s it.
- “An apple a day”… is not just a saying.
- Blueberries raise your natural killer cell count which, as the name implies, kills things that make you sick, like viruses.
- Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage etc.) are packed with immune benefiting and cancer preventing nutrients.
- For those of you who are not afraid to have your status as hipsters changed to hippies the two foods that helped endurance athletes boost their immune systems after races the most effectively were chlorella (a blue-green algae that is available as a supplement) and nutritional yeast (the non-bitter vaguely cheesy tasting cousin of brewers yeast that is really nice on popcorn). My family has been consuming these two foods for over fifteen years, which qualifies us as a power-hippies, and besides having stellar immune systems we enjoy a tablespoon of each mixed together with 4-6 oz. of apple or orange juice as a green drink before school and work most days.
- All mushrooms (provided they are not slathered with pesticides) contain nutrients to boost your immune system.
- Another gold-star option: DIY or buy some dehydrated kale chips (now even sold at Trader Joe’s) because they usually use nutritional yeast to flavor it along with other healthy veggies and spices so it is an all-in-one deal.
When you get dehydrated all of your body systems suffer, including immune function. Unless you have kidney stones you don’t have to drink 8 glasses of water a day but as the season changes to colder and dryer it is easier to get dehydrated so you might end up drinking that much water or more. (If you do have kidney stones be sure to cut out soda and reduce or eliminate meat from your diet.) The best way to stay hydrated is to sip water or herbal tea consistently throughout your day. Chug-a-lugging like a wanna-be camel will only make you have to run to the bathroom because your kidneys are filtering out a sudden influx of water in your system to maintain the chemistry of your blood.
- Deep Breathing
There is a staggering amount of physiological and psychological evidence for the role that deep, slow abdominal breathing plays in supporting mood and immunity. It is the master switch for shifting out of stress mode and the cascade of goodness that follows. If exercise is the yang of immune strengthening deep, slow abdominal breathing is the yin. I have some of my clients take as little as 3 deep breaths every half-hour and when you sustain those intervals throughout the day it has a noticeable payoff for mood, mental clarity, energy level and immunity.
Having a strong immune system may be the single most important factor for supporting the capacity to show up and be productive on a daily basis. Strong immunity expresses itself differently at different levels, physically it means less sick days while mentally and emotionally it means we are able to filter out unnecessary distractions and negativity. So the next time you are watching some heroic athletic event remember that those athletes usually only sustain that level of activity and engagement for very brief periods of time and then they chill out and recover. Most working people have to sustain a peak level of performance day in and day out for years and even decades and the key is to skillfully weave periods of work with breaks that charge you back up on all levels.