Boost your immune system: 7 strategies to staying healthy


5 minutes

24 April 2024

As the winter weather sets in, so does the threat of the common cold, flu, and COVID-19. Thankfully, with a little proactive care and some smart lifestyle choices, you can boost your immune system to help fend off seasonal illnesses.

In this blog, we explore our top immune boosters to help keep you healthy.

Understanding the immune system

Before we take a look at some immune-boosting strategies, it's important to understand the basics of how the immune system works. A complex network of cells, tissues, and organs, the immune system works together to defend the body against harmful pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, and other invaders1.

Key players include your skin, bone marrow, thymus gland (which filters and monitors your body’s blood content), the lymphatic system (including white blood cells), lymph nodes, spleen, and mucous membranes, including those lining the inside of your mouth and nose2.

The immune system stores a comprehensive record of all the microbes it has fought within specialised white blood cells known as memory cells. This enables the immune system to identify and eliminate familiar microbes upon re-entry into the body, preventing the onset of illness and allowing you to stay healthy and symptom-free1.

By strengthening this defence mechanism, you can reduce your susceptibility to illness.

Immune booster 1: Eat a balanced diet

One of the most effective ways to support your immune system is by consuming a nutrient-rich diet. Incorporate plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins into your meals to provide your body with essential vitamins and minerals3.

The CSIRO recommends focusing on the following nutrients which may help to aid your immune system long-term3:

  • Beta-Carotene: Found in carrots, sweet potatoes, and green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and cabbage.
  • Vitamin C: Found in citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and grapefruit, and in vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale.
  • Vitamin E: Found in seeds, nuts, spinach and broccoli.
  • Zinc: Found in nuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds, beans and lentils.

Immune booster 2: Get enough sleep

Adequate sleep is vital for overall health and immune function1. Sleep and the body’s circadian rhythm, an internal clock that regulates various physiological processes over a 24-hour cycle, has a direct link to our immune system4.

A review published in Pflügers Archiv - European Journal of Physiology, found that during wakefulness, cells with immediate defence capabilities peak, aiding in the quick response to invading threats and tissue repair. During sleep, less specialised cells peak, supporting a slower, more adaptive immune response. Sleep was shown to be essential in moving these immune cells around the body and boosting their ability to communicate and work effectively with each other4. The same review showed that sleep after vaccinations helps in the formation of immunological memory4.

The Australian Sleep Health Foundation (SHF) recommends aiming for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to give your body the rest it needs to stay strong and resilient5.

Struggling to get some decent shut-eye?

Immune booster 3: Manage stress

Chronic stress can have a detrimental impact on the way our immune system functions, increasing the risk of illness. Research has shown stress can cause ongoing immune activity and affect health outcomes similar to chronic inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA)6.

If you’re currently experiencing stress, consider incorporating stress-reducing strategies into your daily routine, such as practicing mindfulness7, getting enough sleep, eating well, regular exercise and maintaining a routine8. If you’re finding it hard to manage stress on your own, consider seeking the help of a psychologist or counsellor.

For more tips on managing stress, check out our blog, 5 counsellor-approved ways to manage stress.

Immune booster 4: Stay hydrated

Proper hydration is essential for maintaining optimal health. Water constitutes over half of the human body, serving multiple essential functions including the digestion of food and the absorption of nutrients, elimination of waste products from the body, regulation of our body's temperature, and of course, the operation of our immune system9.

Insufficient water intake hampers the kidneys' ability to remove harmful substances from the body. When the kidneys can't effectively filter these substances, it weakens the immune system's ability to fight infections, leading to overall inflammation10.

Drinking plenty of water also helps to keep your mucous membranes, which line the nose, mouth, eyelids and throat, moist, which can help prevent infections11.

As a general guide (where one cup is 250ml)17:

  • Adults need about 8-10 cups of fluid a day
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women need about 9 cups of fluid a day
  • Babies need 0.7 to 0.8 litres of fluid a day (from breast milk or formula)
  • Children need between 4 cups (for one-year-olds) and 6-8 cups (for teenagers) of fluid per day.

Immune booster 5: Exercise regularly

Regular physical activity not only improves cardiovascular health and mood12 but also enhances immune function13. During exercise, immune cells move between the bloodstream and tissues, improving the body's ability to fight off pathogens. Regular exercise amplifies these effects, leading to improved immune defence and overall metabolic health over time13.

Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. Activities like running, brisk walking, cycling, and swimming can all help strengthen your immune system and ward off illness12.

Immune booster 6: Practice personal hygiene

Simple hygiene habits can go a long way in preventing the spread of germs and reducing your risk of infection. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after using the toilet, before and after eating, if you’ve been around someone with cold and/or flu symptoms, and after touching pets or other animals14.

It’s also important to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing and avoid close contact with sick individuals whenever possible14.

Immune booster 7: Get vaccinated

The best way to prevent catching influenza and COVID-19 is to get vaccinated15.

Getting the influenza vaccination annually is crucial as strains used in vaccines can change from year to year depending on which viruses are predicted to circulate. The flu vaccine is safe, tested, and the Australian Government recommends everyone over the age of six months receive it15.

The COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for people aged 18 years or older and has been proven both safe and effective at preventing severe illness from COVID-1916.

For more information on the recommendations for people eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination, including boosters, visit the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care website.

By incorporating these immune-boosting strategies into your daily routine, you can strengthen your body's defences and minimise your risk of falling ill.

Remember to prioritise healthy habits, nourish your body with nutrient-rich foods, and take proactive steps to support your immune system.


  1. 1Health Channel: Immune system explained
  2. 2Healthdirect: Immune system
  3. 3CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet: The best diet for the immune system
  4. 4Pflügers Archiv - European Journal of Physiology: Sleep and immune function
  5. 5Sleep Health Foundation: How much sleep do you really need?
  6. 6Current Opinion in Psychology: Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function
  7. 7Australian Psychological Society: Stress
  8. 8Beyond Blue: Stress and mental health
  9. 9Healthdirect: Drinking water and your health
  10. 10Magma Scientia Advanced Research and Reviews: Effect of water consumption over the immune system response given during Covid-19
  11. 11Mucosal Immunology: Mucins in the mucosal barrier to infection
  12. 12Healthdirect: Exercise and mental health
  13. 13Journal of Sport and Health Science: The compelling link between physical activity and the body's defense system
  14. 14Better Health Channel: Personal hygiene
  15. 15Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care: Influenza (flu)
  16. 16Healthdirect: COVID-19 vaccination
  17. 17Healthdirect: Drinking water and your health


This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.