7 Ways to Boost Your Immune System During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Apr 7, 2020 3:30:00 PM Posted by Iowa Radiology

health tips


In a time when so much seems beyond our control, we want to control what we can. While it’s likely that many Americans will contract the coronavirus, the severity of any individual’s illness is difficult to predict. One thing we each can do is give our immune systems what they need to be in top shape to fight whatever comes our way. Here are seven ways you can support your immune system.


1. Get plenty of sleep.

Your immune system needs sufficient sleep to function properly. A UC San Francisco study found that among participants exposed to a cold virus, people who regularly slept less than six hours per night were 4.2 times more likely to get sick than those who slept more than seven hours per night. Those who slept less than five hours per night were 4.5 times more likely to get sick than the seven-hour-plus sleepers.

Of course, getting enough sleep may not be easy. Especially in times of stress, many people have trouble falling and staying asleep. If you’re experiencing insomnia, there are several natural ways you can help your mind and body relax and improve your sleep, such as meditation, exercise, herbs, and melatonin supplementation. Try out one or more strategy and see what works best for you.


2. Manage stress.

Stress is associated with the production of cortisol. While this can provide short-term benefits, elevated cortisol over prolonged periods can contribute to inflammation and a decrease in disease-fighting white blood cells. Chronic stress can also lead to anxiety and depression, which, in turn, can further exacerbate inflammation and make you more susceptible to illness. Additionally, loneliness can contribute to depression and stress. If you’re isolated from friends and family who normally provide social and emotional support, finding ways to connect remotely could help.

You can take steps to manage your stress and reduce the amount of cortisol in your blood. Meditation and exercise are two ways to reduce stress and increase your disease resistance. Try meditating for 10 to 15 minutes per day, practicing yoga, or engaging in another type of exercise on a regular basis. In a study of adults 50 and older during flu season, those who engaged in either an 8-week moderate exercise or 8-week meditation program experienced less severe symptoms and were sick fewer days than those in the control group.


3. Get regular exercise.

In addition to its stress-reducing power, exercise may have direct benefits to the immune system. Moderate exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of upper respiratory tract infection, and regular physical activity is correlated with reduced rates of influenza and pneumonia as well as lower death rates from these illnesses. Don’t overdo it, though; heavy exertion can overtax your body and actually make you more vulnerable to disease.


4. Eat a healthy diet.

A healthy diet is always an essential part of maintaining a strong immune system. Experts recommend a balanced diet that includes a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, which helps ensure sufficient intake of vital nutrients. Some foods may also provide additional immune benefits. Probiotics, contained in foods such as yogurt and other fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh, and miso, support the microbiome and are associated with reduced symptoms and duration of respiratory illness.


5. Supplement with vitamin D.

Vitamin D is necessary for our bodies to produce the proteins that kill viruses and bacteria, especially in the respiratory tract. As a result, insufficient levels of vitamin D can make us more vulnerable to respiratory infection. A review of 25 randomized controlled trials that included more than 11,000 participants found that vitamin D supplements reduced the risk of respiratory tract infection. The protective effect was stronger in those whose vitamin D levels were already relatively low (less than 25 nanograms per milliliter).


6. Don’t smoke.

Anything that impedes your lungs’ ability to do their job makes you more susceptible to serious illness and complications arising from coronavirus. This is possibly the worst time in your life to start smoking and the best time to stop. Obviously, this is much more easily said than done, especially in a time of increased stress. Resources are available to help you, however. Visit https://smokefree.gov/ for advice and support.


7. Limit alcohol.

If you’re home from work for days on end, a little day drinking might sound appealing. While moderate alcohol consumption may not be particularly harmful, binge or chronic drinking can wreak havoc on your immune system. Specifically, alcohol has been found to disrupt the function of the cilia in the lungs, whose job is to clear airways of mucus and contaminants—a vital function when you’re battling respiratory illness. Alcohol also weakens the epithelium in the lower airways, which acts as a barrier to pathogens.


All of us at Iowa Radiology wish you good health during this difficult time. We strive to provide reliable, helpful resources for you to support your efforts to take good care of your health. Our blog, ebooks, and infographics are always available for you to browse at no cost.

subscribe to blog



King S, Glanville J, Sanders ME, Fitzgerald, A. Effectiveness of probiotics on the duration of illness in healthy children and adults who develop common acute respiratory infectious conditions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Nutrition. 112(1), 41-54. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0007114514000075. Published April 29, 2014. Accessed March 25, 2020.

Martineau AR, Jolliffe DA, Hooper RL, et al. Vitamin D Supplementation to Prevent Acute Respiratory Tract Infections: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Individual Participant Data. BMJ 2017; 356 :i6583 https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i6583. Published February 15, 2017. Accessed March 25, 2020.

Nieman DC, Wentz LM. The Compelling Link Between Physical Activity and the Body's Defense System. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2019:8(3), 201­–217. Published May 2019. Accessed March 25, 2020.

Parker-Pope T. Can I Boost My Immune System? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/10/well/live/can-i-boost-my-immune-system.html. Published March 10, 2020. Accessed March 25, 2020.

Potter LM, Weiler N. Short Sleepers Are Four Times More Likely to Catch a Cold. University of California San Francisco. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2015/08/131411/short-sleepers-are-four-times-more-likely-catch-cold. Published August 31, 2015. Accessed March 25, 2020.

Reddy S. Facts (and Myths) About Boosting Your Immune System. The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/facts-and-myths-about-boosting-your-immune-system-11584050588. Published March 12, 2020. Accessed March 25, 2020.

Sarkar D, Jung MK, Wang HJ. Alcohol and the Immune System. Alcohol Research. 2015; 37(2): 153–155. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590612/. Published 2015. Accessed March 25, 2020.

Stress Weakens the Immune System. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune. Published February 23, 2006. Accessed March 25, 2020.

Wan W, Achenbach J, Johnson CY, Guarino B. Coronavirus will radically alter the U.S. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/19/coronavirus-projections-us/. Published March 19, 2020. Accessed March 25, 2020.

What Happens When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out? Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-when-your-immune-system-gets-stressed-out/. Published March 1, 2017. Accessed March 25, 2020.

Wong K. 14 Natural Remedies to Beat Insomnia. Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/natural-ways-to-help-you-sleep-88230. Published November 27, 2019. Accessed March 25, 2020.

A compassionate, personal approach to medicine.

Iowa Radiology was founded in 2001 by a group of well-known central Iowa diagnostic professionals who wished to emphasize the personal side of diagnostic care as much as the technical side.

The information contained in the Iowa Radiology website is presented as public service information only. It is not intended to be nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider if you think you may have a medical problem before starting any new treatment, or if you have any questions regarding your medical condition.Iowa Radiology occasionally supplies links to other web sites as a service to its readers and is not in any way responsible for information provided by other organizations.