Understanding how to boost your immune system before travel is something many of us are doing as we prepare to explore the world once again. While being fully vaccinated against regional diseases and, of course, coronavirus will help our immune systems, there are also ways you can boost your body’s readiness for adventure and feel healthy in everyday life regardless of your vaccination status.
How the immune system works
Before we look into how to boost your immune system, it’s worth understanding what our body actually does to fight off harmful bugs.
The immune system is your body's defence against infections, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and harmful cell changes. An immune system response is activated when your body encounters something it doesn't recognise, called an antigen.
When antigens attach to receptors on an immune cell, it triggers a process to combat the new intruder. Your T-cells, which are made in your bone marrow, will be deployed to destroy the antigens, but not before your body has also created antibodies, which effectively remember how to successfully fight off the harmful intruder next time.
Over time, babies and children will build up their antibodies and be able to fight off more and more infections, such as certain strains of the common cold and chickenpox.
As an adult, for the immune system to work effectively it's important that we stay healthy. This gives our body the best chance it can to fight off infection – even of diseases it recognises.
Researchers at Southampton University recommend a 'diverse and varied mixture of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and pulses, along with some meat, fish and dairy' as the ideal balance for a strong immune system. This, coupled with a regular sleeping pattern and at least moderate exercise, will ensure your body is performing at its best.
Can travelling weaken the immune system?
While travelling can prove to be one of the most effective ways to boost your mental health, it can also impact on your physical wellbeing if you're not prepared.
Often the entire process of travelling takes our body out of its comfort zone. The early alarm to catch your flight interrupts sleep, the expensive and usually disappointing airport food may be different to your normal diet, perhaps the stress of remembering where your passport is triggers anxiety – and that's all before you get on the plane!
Travelling across time zones can interrupt sleep patterns, while recycled air on planes may introduce you to a wealth of new germs, as can the close proximity to others as social distancing restrictions ease.
What’s more, you may be about to encounter entirely new diseases on your travels. Imagine your immune system as a record of every infection you've ever encountered. Your antibodies are well versed in fighting off diseases local to you, but when you travel you can become exposed to new bacterias and viruses not seen at home. There is therefore a heightened risk of becoming sick as you explore the world. That's why governments recommend you update your vaccination status before travelling to particular countries.
Of course, we don’t all immediately get sick when we travel. But there are things you can do to strengthen your immune system and prepare your body for a new adventure. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what you can control before you jet off abroad...
How sleep can help boost your immune system before travel
Sleep is vital for a strong immune system. Remember the T-cells we mentioned earlier? Well, if you don’t sleep well your T-cells’ production of integrin (the stuff that sticks to harmful antigens) drops. It is therefore harder for your body to destroy unwanted intruders.
What’s more, better sleeping patterns give you more energy, which in turn prepares your body should it ever encounter a really serious bug.
So, whether you’re an athlete or just someone who enjoys general exercise, ensuring you have an optimum sleep strategy will greatly help your body’s ability to fight infection.
Sleep planning should begin when you book your travel. Is the early, cheaper flight really your best option, or would a good night sleep the day before – which includes no phone screens in bed! – and a later flight time actually improve your physical wellbeing? If you’re embarking on a long-haul flight, investing in a travel pillow so you can catch some Zs on the plane could help your body adjust to jet lag once you land. What’s more, many people make the mistake of hitting the holiday vibe on day one of their travels, and subsequently feel much worse for wear the next day.
How diet can help boost your immune system before travel
Preparedness is everything when it comes to your immune system and your food intake is the number one source of proteins, vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy. Therefore, undertaking a smart diet is important ahead of travel if you want to keep your body’s defences in top shape.
Now, a healthy diet in this sense is not about weight loss or specific health plans such as FODMAP. Instead, this is about eating a diverse mix of food and supplements that keep your body and mind healthy. Harvard's healthy eating plan recommends your food intake consists of:
50% vegetables and fruits
25% whole grains
Healthy oils rather than partially hydrogenated oils
No sugary drinks
Coffee, which can give you a caffeine kick especially ahead of a long flight or train journey, is great when you need it. But have it too late in the day and you may ruin your sleep and thus impact on your immune response.
Having a balanced, healthy diet that makes you more mindful of what you eat should result in you making better choices around what you feed your body.
Many of the ingredients required in a healthy diet are found in U ULTRA Immunity, which is clinically-proven to improve immune function, reduce tiredness and promote mental clarity. The all-vegan ingredients help safeguard your stamina, as well as correct nutritional and immune deficiencies.
How exercise can help boost your immune system before travel
When we do even moderate exercise our immune cells can increase by between 50% and 400%, as our spleen and bone marrow send cells rushing into the blood circulation. Over time, the more exercise you do the more finely tuned your body is at triggering immune responses to invading pathogens and thus reducing the risk of long-term infection.
One university study in South Carolina found adults who exercise moderately have a 29% decrease in upper respiratory tract infections (UTRI), compared to those who are less physically active.
Now, UTRIs are particularly pertinent for travellers, as we are exposed to many more airborne infections when sitting together in planes and on trains. Having a fine-tuned immune system to deal with antigens in the sinuses, throat, airways or lungs will increase your chances of staying healthy before and during a trip. Of course, if the coronavirus pandemic taught us anything it was the importance of personal hygiene – and so hand sanitiser and face masks can also help prevent the spread of diseases.
How to boost your immune system before travel: Conclusion
When it comes to boosting your immune system before travel, you can deploy some quick fixes such as planning your sleep patterns and food intake leading up to your day of departure. But for the best results you need to plan further ahead. Adhering to a healthy balanced diet, undertaking regular exercise and kicking habits like reading your phone in bed will ensure your immune system is ready to protect you not only during your travels, but when you get back home too!