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4 Immune boosting strategies to minimise your risk of infection

All over the world, we are desperate to avoid catching the dreaded virus, and passing it on. Here are some science backed, immune boosting strategies to help minimise your risk

All over the world, we are desperate to avoid catching the dreaded virus, and passing it on. Here are some science backed, immune boosting strategies to help minimise your risk

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We have written a really informative article about the coronavirus, how it spreads, the symptoms and risk factors associated with the disease. You can read that article here.

Here are four protective and immune boosting strategies you can use in order to minimise your risk of catching the coronavirus.

Immune boosting strategy 1 – Minimise your exposure to the coronavirus 

immune boosting strategies - avoid infection by the coronavirus
  • Stay at home

In some parts of the world, governments have declared a state of emergency and are enforcing that people stay at home. Schools have been closed and only essential services have remained open. If this has not been done in your area, it is still a good idea to minimise your exposure by going out only when absolutely necessary. Try to do online shopping, stock up on essential items and freeze what can be frozen. Ask your local farmers market if they are able to deliver, or if you can simply pick up you order. Do online banking to avoid the bank. Eat at home rather than out at restaurants. Avoid socialising in big groups, as your chance of exposure to the virus increases exponentially in bigger groups. 

  • Maintain social distancing

When interacting with others, be sure to maintain about 6 feet between each other. Do not hug, kiss or shake hands. If you are living with someone who is at higher risk, be sure to limit physical contact. It is good to know that pets are safe. You cannot give the coronavirus to a pet, and you cannot catch it from your pet. Pets are important for physical comfort and stress relief.

  • Wash your hands

The most effective way to protect yourself from the coronavirus or any germs is to wash your hands. Lather up with soap and warm water for at least 30 seconds. Remember to clean under your fingernails, the backs of your hands, your thumbs, and the tips of your fingers. You can watch this hand washing video with your kids to make sure you are doing it properly. Use hand sanitiser (if you can get it) when out, or when you are unable to wash your hands. Washing your hands is however more effective than using hand sanitiser. You can also use alcohol to disinfect your hands. It needs to be 60% or more alcohol to be effective. 

  • Do not touch your face

The virus enters your body through your mouth, nose or eyes. Avoid touching your face, especially if you are out, or have not just washed your hands.

  • Clean high touch areas in your home

Regularly clean the areas of your home, which are regularly touched, especially by people not your immediate family. If you have a family member who is at increased risk then try to avoid sharing bathrooms if at all possible, or clean these areas regularly. This includes door handles, doorbells, light switches, and countertops. Use disinfectant spray, alcohol or soap and water. 

  • Clean your phone

Your phone is something you touch all the time, and also hold close to your face! Watch this BBC video about how to safely clean your mobile phone

Immune boosting strategy 2 – Get enough sleep

sleep is an important immune boosting strategy
8 hours of sleep per night helps boost your immune system

The body’s immune system and anti-body formation cyle with the body’s circadian rhythms. Your circadian rhythm is what makes  you feel sleepy at night and wakes you up in the morning. It is also what gets messed up when you experience jet lag. These immunological, biological and hormonal relationships between sleep and your immune system are incredibly complicated, and critically important. Basically if you are not getting enough sleep your body is unable to effectively defend itself against viruses and pathogens. In a study done in 2015, researchers examined how likely someone was to catch the common cold related to the amount of sleep the participants had. The researchers literally put the rhinovirus up the 164 healthy participants noses! After contolling for all other variables, the researchers found that sleep was the biggest predictor of whether participants would develop a cold. Participants who slept less than 5 hours per night were 4.5 times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept 7 or more hours per night. Sleeping 6-7 hours per night still increased your risk of developing a cold by 66% when compared to those who slept 7 or more hours per night.

The researchers also found that even just three nights of inadaquate sleep causes measurable increases in blood inflammatory markers. This increase in inflammation puts strain on your immune system, making your immune system less able to respond adaquately to a pathogen or infection. 

Another study done on healthy nurses aged between 37 and 47, looked at their sleeping patterns over a 4 year period. Those who routinely slept less than 5 hours per night had a 70% higher chance of developing pneumonia over the 4-year period of the study. 

So prioritising sleep as an immune boosting strategy is important! Generally around 8 hours of sleep per night is ideal. Sleep experts recommend that you go to bed around 8.5 to 9 hours before you have to wake up. This allows for time to fall asleep, and for some minor distrubances of sleep during the night. It is important that your room is dark. Switch off devices completely. Avoid blue light from mobile phones and computers in the hours before bedtime. Excessive alcohol consumption and caffeine consumption can disrupt your sleep. Calming herbal teas containing chamomile, valerian, lavendar, and passionflower may be helpful. You may also want to take a calcium-magnesium supplement before going to bed in order to help calm your nervous system and improve the quality of your sleep.

Immune boosting strategy 3 – Manage stress levels 

Chronic stress is clinically proven to negatively impact immune function. Cortisol is the main hormone produced by our adrenal glands, especially when under stress. Cortisol changes the chemical messengers of inflammation (called cytokines), which are released by the immune system. As a result of the changes to the messengers, the way the immune system communicates with itself is disrupted. This disruption has been proven to lead to increased susceptibility to many of health conditions, ranging from infections, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, depression and cancer.

A very large study of the Swedish population, matched those who had suffered from severe stress related disorders to their siblings. They found that those who suffered from severe stress related disorders (including post traumatic stress disorder PTSD, acute stress reaction and adjustment disorder) were 47% more likely to suffer from a life threatening infection than their siblings without a stress related disorder. They were also 58% more likley to suffer a life threatening disorder than the general population. Those with PTSD were 92% more likely than siblings, and 95% more likely than the general public to suffer from a life threatening infection. 

Similarly, a study done on employees working at a military research centre, found that those whose stress levels were rated as high were 3 times more likely to develope flu the following season, than those whose stress levels were rated as low. 

In the early 90’s a study was carried out which examined individuals susceptibility to the common cold with participants psychological stress levels. They administered various different viruses up the participants noses. They found that the rate of infection was 5.8 x higher in the highly stressed participants when compared to the lowest stressed participants. 

Coping mechanisms to reduce stress


mindfulness is proven to have immune boosting effects
Mindfulness is clinically proven to improve immune response

Mindfulness is a form of meditation, which is immensely beneficial, and clinically proven as an effective strategy to reduce stress, and improve immune function. If you would like to access Mindfulness practices, there are many to choose from here. You can also read this article on Mindfulness here

There are also many mobile phone apps such as Sam Harris’ “Waking Up” which includes podcasts and guided meditations. There is wealth of online free mindfulness material from Jon Kabatt-Zinn and Tara Brach to help you to tune in to your mind, your body, and to better manage your stress.

Other strategies to reduce stress 

Consider the following in order to reduce or manage your stress:

  • decrease your load and commitments
  • outsource what you can
  • focus on the essentials
  • decrease chemical stressors such as polution, excessive alcohol, tobacco 
  • decrease sensory stressors like noisy, crowded places, traffic and chaos
  • spend time in nature
  • laugh
  • cuddle with a pet or loved one every day
  • make time for hobbies, and pastimes which bring you joy and better balance.
  • get enough sleep – stress, sleep and immunity are all interlinked

Immune boosting strategy 4 – Moderate-Intensity Exercise

couple doing a plank at home
Moderate intensity exercise has clinically proven immune boosting benefits

Studies 1,2,3 have shown that regular moderate intensity exercise promotes improved immune system function. This is due to a reduction in unwanted cytokine activity, an improvement in white blood cell function, and regulation of cortisol release. Cortisol and cytokines are both related to inflammation and immune function. Moderate intensity exercise raises your heart rate 50-60% higher than it would be at rest. 

Cardiologists and doctors also use a more complicated formula to calculate your target heart rate for exercise. This is not absolutely necessary, as you can also use the “talk test” where you should still be able to maintain a conversation when exercising at a moderate intensity. But if you would like to be more accurate, you can find the formula here. 

You also want to aim to do 150 minutes per week, which equates to 30 minutes, five days a week of moderate-intensity immune boosting activity.

Examples of moderate intensity exercise are:

walking outdoors is a moderate intensity exercise
Walking 2 miles in 30 minutes is considered moderate exercise
  • Walking – you need to aim to walk 2 miles in 30 minutes. Or about 100 steps per minute. 
  • Walking up the stairs 
  • Cleaning the house – vacuuming, sweeping. 
  • Gardening – mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, trimmimg hedges, digging and planting.
  • Full body movements like squats, push ups and lunges raise your heart rate very effectively. You can combine these strenghtening movements with walking on the spot, raising your knees up, marching on the spot or dancing to give yourself a full body workout.
  • Yoga and Pilates can also raise your heart rate sufficiently, especially more dynamic and movement filled classes.
  • Water aerobics 
  • Swimming
  • Try out this great 12 Full Body Cardio Exercises to do at Home program you can do at home! You would also benefit from these 10 Easy Cardio Exercises to do at Home

If you want to avoid catching a virus, you may want to avoid prolonged, very high intensity and strenuous workouts. It is scientifically proven that athletes have a higher risk of upper respiratory infections – particularly during peak training and competition season. Scientists think that this is possibly due to a temporary suppression of the immune system, in chronic high intensity exercisers. 

Summary of the 4 immune boosting strategies to prevent infection 

  1. Minimise your exposure 
  2. Get enough sleep
  3. Manage stress
  4. Moderate intensity exercise

If you would like to learn more, you can read our article about Immune Boosting Foods. We also have an amazing, free Anti-Inflammatory Diet with the most wonderful recipes, which will of course also serve as an immune boosting tactic. 


  1. Prather AA, Janicki-Deverts D, Hall MH, Cohen S. Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Sleep. 2015 Sep 1;38(9):1353-9. doi: 10.5665/sleep.4968. PubMed PMID: 26118561; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4531403. 
  2. Patel SR, Malhotra A, Gao X, Hu FB, Neuman MI, Fawzi WW. A prospective study of sleep duration and pneumonia risk in women. Sleep. 2012 Jan 1;35(1):97-101. doi: 10.5665/sleep.1594. PubMed PMID: 22215923; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3242694. 
  3. Chubak J, McTiernan A, Sorensen B, Wener MH, Yasui Y, Velasquez M, Wood B, Rajan KB, Wetmore CM, Potter JD, Ulrich CM. Moderate-intensity exercise reduces the incidence of colds among postmenopausal women. Am J Med. 2006 Nov;119(11):937-42. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.06.033. PubMed PMID: 17071161. 
  4. Ciloğlu F. The effect of exercise on salivary IgA levels and the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections in postmenopausal women. Kulak Burun Bogaz Ihtis Derg. 2005;15(5-6):112-6. PubMed PMID: 16444091. 
  5. Mackinnon LT. Chronic exercise training effects on immune function. Med Sci Sports Exerc.2000 Jul;32(7 Suppl):S369-76. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200007001-00001. Review. PubMed PMID: 10910293.


Carron Howard

Carron is a physiotherapist with over 20 years of experience, specialised in orthopedics, rehabilitation, sports injuries, backs and necks. She is a qualified Pilates instructor with a strong focus physical fitness, injury prevention and recovery. B Physt UP, OMT 1, SPT 1
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