The immune system in our body is under the influence of a number of factors. Heredity and maternal exposures to certain disorders decide the amount of inbuilt immunity that a child develops while growing in the mother’s womb.
Once the child is born and grows up, the environmental exposures and lifestyle play a vital role in further development of immunity. The ability of an individual to resist an infection depends upon the capability of the immune system to overpower infectious microorganisms. Some lifestyle factors that have a significant influence on the immunity of an individual are discussed below.
Exercise and Physical Activity
Exercise and physical activity has a generalized influence on the whole body. It improves blood flow, increases flexibility, reduces fatigue, and improves the supply of oxygen to all the cells and tissues in the body. This helps to improve the function of a majority of the organs in our body including the organs which produce the blood cells responsible for immunity. The World Health Organization and the American Heart Association have previously advised a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity for at least 5 days per week.
A study conducted in Iowa reported the immune system of adults who performed vigorous exercises for more than or equal to 20 minutes, more than 3 days per week were much more active than individuals who did not perform any exercise. Further, it was also noted that adults who performed a moderate amount of physical activity also had better immune activity than others who led a sedentary life. Thereby it was concluded that exercise and physical activity do play a role in improving the immune system of an individual.
Self-esteem and Social Activity and Stress
The Iowa study and other studies have further reported that general factors of life such as self-esteem and social activity does have an effect on the immune system. An individual who has a higher self esteem and is socially active has a higher level of immunity when compared to others who are depressed and remain secluded. This beneficial affect may be related to the release of certain hormones that induce better functioning of the immune system.
Stress experienced at occupational, social and personal levels can have an adverse effect on the health of individuals. Stress can directly or indirectly influence the way the body performs and functions. Increased stress can lead to depression and anxiety thereby accentuating the effects on the body. While stress that remains for a shorter duration of time (acute) may not have a major influence, stress that lasts for a long period (chronic stress) can have a major effect on the health of an individual. High levels of stress induce the release of hormones such as catecholamines that affect the function of various cells and tissues. The catecholamines have an influence on the heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and on the functioning of the immune system and its associated cells and tissues. In regards to the immune system, catecholamines have a wide range of effects. It induces increased formation of immature T-lymphocytes, causes improper distribution of the immune cells, suppresses the activity of the immune cells and also affects the overall growth and development of the immune cells. Whereby increased stress can lead to a weakened immune system that makes an individual vulnerable to attacks by harmful microorganisms.
The growth and development of our body is mainly dependent on the nutrition obtained through diet. The normal functioning of all the cells and tissues in our body require a specific concentration of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats and other essential macro and micronutrients. Most of these essential nutrients are made available with the consumption of a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Along with development of the immune system, the nutrients available from diet and dietary supplements improves the functioning of the cells and tissues which enable them to offer a good amount of resistance to the toxins being produced by harmful microorganisms.
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Daily Multivitamin Intake
Intake of multivitamin supplements influences the functioning of the whole body. Vitamins have an effect on the growth and development of the body in general. The body requires a regular supply of certain essential vitamins that are available from the diet we consume. However, not all vitamins may be available through diet or the amount being obtained may not be sufficient, this necessitates taking multivitamin supplements. Daily multivitamin supplementation can improve the overall health and functioning of the immune system.
Administration of steroids has been associated with a decrease in immune system function. Steroids are commonly administered for longer durations in individuals suffering from long term inflammatory disorders such as asthma. While the natural steroids present in the body do not have such an impact on the immune system, an increase in the level of synthetic steroids greatly influences the functioning of the immune system. Administration of corticosteroids in high doses or low doses for a prolonged period of time suppresses the functions of the immune system. Individuals taking steroids are more prone to develop infections when compared to otherwise healthy individuals.