• If everyone around you seems to be falling ill, it’s not just in your head — people are more likely to get sick during the winter season, as seen in Oura member data. 
  • It’s possible to strengthen your immune system naturally through simple, science-backed lifestyle habits, such as eating more fermented and antioxidant-rich foods, sleeping more, exercising, and taking immune-boosting supplements like vitamin D3.
  • You can use Oura to monitor your sleep quality and keep tabs on your stress levels, as well as use Tags to track your immune-boosting actions such as taking supplements or using the sauna.

While the winter season is often marked by holiday celebrations and family get-togethers, ’tis the season to catch a cold or get the flu, too.

More frequent travel, indoor family gatherings, and colder weather can create a perfect storm for getting sick. Plus, Oura member data supports that finding: In December 2022, the tag “sick” was used more than 20,000 times — a 44% increase from August 2022! 

The good news: By making a few lifestyle adjustments, it is possible to support your immune system, so you’re more likely to ward off illness and enjoy all the fun.

Plus, you can use your Oura Ring as a tool for early detection. Biometric signals like a rise in body temperature trends, an increase in respiratory rate, a decrease in HRV (heart rate variability), or a lower Readiness Score may indicate that your body is fighting something. This allows you to make the necessary changes to support your immune system and recover quickly.

Member Spotlight: As Thanksgiving approached, Jonas saw that his body temperature trend was elevated. He showed his Oura data to this doctor, who prescribed medication. This allowed Jonas to treat his illness before any of his family members got sick.

LEARN MORE: How Oura Can Help Monitor Illness

How Your Immune System Works

Consider your immune system to be your body’s self-defense armor. When your body detects the presence of harmful substances, like a virus, your immune system ramps up its efforts to fight them off. 

A strong immune system is like an all-powerful shield – it’s better able to fight against illness to keep you healthy. In fact, with a strong immune system, your body can often fight off these pathogens without you ever displaying symptoms of illness.

The strength of your immune system is based on a number of lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors — including what you eat and how you sleep. (And what you drink — which is why you’re more likely to get sick after a night of drinking!) 

Incorporating some science-backed immune boosters into your daily routine gives your body the necessary tools it needs to fight illness and keep you healthy year-round — and especially during the busy holiday season. 

RELATED: Why Is My Heart Rate Higher When I’m Sick?

9 Ways to Boost Your Immune System

1. Get plenty of sleep.

Adults should sleep between seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Sleeping any less than this has a harmful effect on your immune system. Studies have shown that just a few nights of inadequate sleep suppress antibody production and immune cell response. During deep sleep, your immune system ramps up. Cytokines, the primary messengers of the immune system, are released to help regulate immune responses. This helps to fight off illness while you’re getting your shut-eye.

If you feel an illness coming on (or see it reflected in your Oura data), try to take a nap, or sleep longer at night to give your immune system an extra boost. Track your sleep with Oura to see how much sleep you’re getting each night, as well as the quality of your sleep.

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LEARN MORE: How Sleep Affects Your Immune System

2. Add foods to your plate that support your immunity.  

Incorporating fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, and yogurt delivers immune-boosting probiotics into your diet. Probiotics contribute to a healthy gut microbiome, which is closely linked to immune function. In fact, 70-80% of your immune cells exist in the gut. Your gut microbiota influences the development and activity of immune cells, and modulates your immune response. 

Also, aim to eat plenty of colorful foods like beetroot, kale, carrots, and strawberries, which contain phytonutrients. These special compounds, including flavonoids, carotenoids, and polyphenols, play a crucial role in bolstering your immune system.

3. Cut back on common vices. 

The usual suspects that have a negative impact on your overall health can also hinder your immunity — think: alcohol, smoking, excess sugar, and late nights.

Pro tip: Find a substitute your habits, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out – trade in alcohol for a non-alcoholic cocktail, or refined sugar for fresh fruit.

  • Alcohol damages your gut lining, which can leak harmful microbes into your circulation, causing inflammation. 
  • Smoking decreases the activity of a type of white blood cell known as neutrophils. Neutrophils kill invading microbes, so are vital for immune function.
  • Excess sugar produces proinflammatory cytokines, which are like alarm signals in your body that trigger an immune response and can elevate inflammation.
  • Late nights can throw off the hormones of your circadian rhythm, which are closely linked to immune function. Late-night eating also hurts your sleep quality!
Member Spotlight: Gemma R. decided to go alcohol-free after seeing how her alcohol use was impacting her sleep, stress levels, and heart health in her Oura data.

4. Spice up your meals. 

When cooking, try to incorporate herbs and spices such as ginger, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, thyme, and cayenne pepper. They not only add flavor, but they’re also natural immune boosters that have anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antiviral benefits. For example, curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has been shown to have antimicrobial properties, cooperating with immune cells to bolster your body’s defense. 

5. Do a quick HIIT workout.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can stimulate the production of immune-boosting cells like natural killer cells and T-cells, enhancing your body’s ability to fight off infections. As the name suggests, this high-intensity form of exercise causes an increase in your heart rate and body temperature, increasing nutrient-rich blood and lymph flow, which helps to distribute immune cells throughout your body. Pro tip: Keep your workout short and sweet – 5 to 15 minutes maximum. This allows for a small inflammatory response without requiring extensive recovery which can temporarily suppress immune function. Track your workouts, and your workout heart rate, on Oura to make sure you do enough – without overdoing it.

LEARN MORE: Defining Low, Medium, and High-Intensity Movement & Using Oura to Track It

6. Stay hydrated. 

Staying adequately hydrated supports immunity by efficiently circulating lymph flow, which carries immune cells and antibodies around the body. It also preserves the integrity of your mucous membranes, which acts as a barrier against toxins. Finally, the more you drink, the more you urinate, which helps to support toxin elimination from the kidneys.

7. Manage your stress.

Brief periods of beneficial stress (like studying for a test or a short, intense workout) can increase immune function. However, when stress is chronic, it has the opposite effect. Chronic stress causes elevated cortisol and inflammation, which suppresses immune activity by inhibiting immune cell activity, like T lymphocytes. 

Stay on top of your stress levels with the Oura App using the new Daytime Stress feature and by tracking your HRV. If you start to notice your stress levels consistently rising, focus on stress-relieving activities such as exercise and breathwork. 

LEARN MORE: 9 Simple (and Science-Backed!) Ways to Lower Stress

8. Hit the sauna.

Studies show that a single 15-minute sauna session stimulates the immune system: increasing white blood cells, including lymphocytes and neutrophils. It’s also a great way to boost your immune system when sick! Sauna use is a type of hormetic stressor – which means it briefly triggers your stress response, which modulates inflammation and boosts immunity.  

According to Andrew D. Huberman, PhD, associate professor of neurobiology at Stanford University, aim to use the sauna two to three times a week. Tag your sauna use on Oura using the Tags feature so that you can see how it impacts your sleep.

LEARN MORE: Sauna & Sleep: A Winning Combo?

9. Consider immune-boosting supplements.

Supplements such as vitamin D3, vitamin C, and zinc can be smart additions to improve immune health.* In the winter months, due to the lack of sunlight, vitamin D levels can lower. Low vitamin D levels reduce immunity and increase your susceptibility to infection. Similarly, zinc supplements have been shown to shorten symptoms of illness by a few days. 

Another surprising supplement that can boost your immune system is medicinal mushrooms. Look for a formula that contains cordyceps, chaga, and maitake. In addition to their many healing and adaptogenic properties, mushrooms contain beta-glucans which have immune-modulating effects.

*Always check with your doctor before adding a new supplement to your routine. 

RELATED: 9 Science-Backed Herbs and Supplements for Better Sleep