Your immune system is your defense against infection and illness. When germs break through that defense you get sick. If you’re coming down with colds all the time, it’s a sign that your immune system is losing the battle against germs and viruses.

So, what can you do to build a stronger defense against illness?

Making healthy diet choices and leading a balanced lifestyle gives you the best chance of staying healthy year-round.

Choose a nutrient-rich diet

The nutrients we need to build a strong immune system are found in the foods we eat every day. Whole foods give us the vitamins and minerals that help us grow the germ-fighting cells that make up our immune defense. Adding the types of food below to your diet is a great place to start:

Vegetables and fruits (the brighter the better)

Whole grains (brown rice, oats, whole wheat)

Legumes (chickpeas and lentils)

Beans (pinto and kidney beans)

Lean protein (skinless chicken or turkey, fish)

Healthy fats (nuts and seeds, eggs)

And it’s not just what you eat, but how you eat that can boost your immunity. Eating small meals during the day makes sure your body is regularly getting the nutrients and energy it needs. Drinking 8–10 cups of fluid also helps flush the waste out of your system.

Stay away from sugary drinks, like soda. They make it hard for germ-fighting cells to grow. Stick to water, herbal tea or other sugar-free drinks.

Ask your doctor about nutrient and vitamin supplements

If changing your diet sounds like a step too far, or you aren’t noticing a change in how you feel, you can also get the nutrients you need by taking a daily multivitamin. Supplements are often recommended for micro-nutrient deficiency or malnutrition. This means you are not getting enough nutrients needed for your health. This condition is more common in older people.

You should talk to your doctor about supplements and vitamins to make sure it’s the right decision for you.

Boost your immunity with a balanced lifestyle

When you set good habits, like washing your hands or not smoking, you’re protecting your immune system. There are a number of things you can do to give your immune system a break.

  1. Regular exercise

Exercise has many positive effects. It can help improve circulation, which allows germ-fighting cells to move around your body and do their job – keeping you healthy.

  2. A good night’s sleep

Getting 7–9 hours of sleep per night is best for adults. This allows the body to recover and helps to reduce stress.

  3. Stress management

Stress affects your immune system. Long term stress can be treated with medication or by learning tools to manage stress. Taking time to yourself and talking to loved ones or a professional can help reduce stress hormones in your system.