Diet and Lifestyle Tips to Support Immune Health

I listened to an interesting webinar last week from the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) about what we can do to improve our immune system as we wait and prepare for the vaccine. Some of us, including me, are going to have a bit of wait until we are eligible to get the vaccine and there are some diet and lifestyle habits we can practice now to maximize our immune health while we are waiting. Of course, check with your medical provider for specific recommendations pertaining to your health. Each of us is different and our health needs may be different.

Points 1 and 2 are what we have been doing for months. Check out point 3 for some empowering diet and lifestyle habits you can do to support your immune system.

  1. Continue to follow public health recommendations including social distancing and wearing masks.
  2. Address any comorbid conditions as described by the CDC (including smoking, obesity, type 2 diabetes …).
  3. Support healthy lifestyle habits including getting enough sleep, exercise, eating a nutrient-dense diet rich in colorful plant foods and fiber, support your microbiome, implement strategies to minimize stress, build and maintain supportive relationships with others, and optimize hormones. (partial list)

I can’t go into depth on all of these interventions here, but I do want to want to point out a few of them and give some more specific details.

Plant Foods
Eat a diet rich in colorful plants (fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, whole grains). Plant foods are rich in phytonutrients, vitamins, antioxidants, and contain a lot of fiber. Aim to eat 9-13 servings per day. That does not mean 9 salads a day. Look to raw, cooked, and fermented plants and combine them in a way that best works to support your body and digestion. A serving of vegetables is roughly one cup raw vegetables and 1/2 cup cooked. Go for as many different colors and varieties as possible. Last summer I hosted a challenge where we ate 50 different plant foods during a week-long period. Count up your plant foods and see how many you eat in a typical week, if it’s not close to 50, add a few new ones next week. Herbs and spices are packed with nutrients. An easy first step is to add more spices to the dishes you are already cooking.

Regular exercise supports the immune system and mood. Ideally, try to get some movement in every day and for those who are already active, more is better. If you are not active, start where you are and experiment with different types of exercise. You can go for a walk, try an online or app-based class, or even start with some stretching or turn on some music and do some dancing around your living room. In my Mind-Body Skills group last week we learned some qi gong exercises that are gentle, but really got our blood moving.

It seems simple, but getting a good night’s sleep is getting more and more challenging for many of us. Ideally, we want to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night to support our immune system. Setting a regular bedtime and some good habits is a great way to start. I have been victim to my share of 6-hour sleep sessions because I have been binge-watching a Netflix show way too late. It has taken some discipline to set my evening routine in a way that lets me have some downtime and supports my overall health. Knowing that it is a priority has been helpful and I feel so much better when I get enough sleep. I have more energy, better concentration, and fewer cravings for caffeine and sugar to keep me awake.

If you would like to dig a little deeper into what strategies might help you support your immune system, I am here to help. You can find more information from IFM here or for a more personal approach please reach out to me at