By Carla Elston
People are exposed to harmful germs every day. Some of these germs can have adverse effects on a person’s immune system. Like a car, the immune system needs to be tuned up in order to properly function. To ensure their immune system is well equipped, a person should be proactive in regard to their health.
What Immune Systems Do
Germs are classified as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or diseases. As with the protective body of a car, the human body has its own ways, such as skin, stomach acids, mucus, sweat, and tears, to protect against unwanted germs. However, germs are small and unnoticeable to human eyes and can easily enter human bodies. This is where a person’s immune system steps in.
Much like the wear and tear of a car, germs are harmful to a body’s performance. A body’s immune system works to protect a person from harmful germs that cause illness. It also produces antibodies to fight symptoms, including infections, fevers, coughs, rashes, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
Role of Nutrients
In order to fight germs, nutrients are the first line of defense in helping a body to build up its immune system. Nutrition-related health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer, reduce a body’s immune functions. Diets high in calories, fat, salt, and sugars can lead to the development of chronic diseases and cause the immune system to tune down.
Many people do not eat a nutrient-rich diet on a daily basis. Nutrients provide the body with the necessary tools to fight off infections and diseases.
Nutrients also provide energy, heal wounds, build body tissue, and help organs to function properly. Eating a colorful plate of food and a variety of food from all food groups can increase nutrient intake.
• Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin A and C as well as folic acid.
• Whole grains contain iron, selenium, and folic acid.
• Proteins, such as meat, poultry, seafood, and legumes, contain protein, iron, vitamin B6, vitamin E, and zinc.
• Dairy contains vitamin D, protein, zinc, and selenium.
While a diet is important, so is physical exercise. Just like cars are built to move, the human body also requires movement and is fueled by calories that are consumed daily.
The only way to burn calories is through physical activity. The Physical Activity Guidelines published by the United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends that Americans engage in physical activity daily.
Physical activity increases oxygen levels and provides a human body with an extra burst of energy to strengthen an immune system’s fighting power. Adults are advised to be active for 150 minutes a week and youth for 60 minutes a day. Exercise should include aerobic and strengthening activities.
Some people may lack motivation to exercise because it seems hard or perhaps they have busy schedules. Walking, however, is one of the easiest and stress-free exercises that can be enjoyable. The key is to start small and increase time devoted to physical activity.
How Extension Can Help
Alabama Extension is here to help people tune up their immune system with health and nutrition programs. The Walking Like a CHAMPION campaign, for example, is an ongoing statewide campaign that encourages Alabama residents to get healthy by eating the right foods and adding physical activity to their daily routines. Participants are encouraged to walk as individuals or in a group. Visit the Walking Like a CHAMPION page on the Alabama Extension website to learn more about this initiative.
Remember, proper nutrition and physical activity are keys to tuning up an immune system. For more information on health and nutrition or any of the programs that Extension offers, visit www.aces.edu or contact the Bullock County Extension Office at (334) 738-2580.