As schools across the country welcome students back this year, parents are concerned for their health. COVID cases are surging and kids under 12 still can’t get vaccinated, so having a healthy immune system is more important than ever. Lifestyle habits like eating nutritious foods, exercising and sleeping can support a well-functioning immune system and that may help lower the risk of COVID, according to guidance from the CDC.
These are some ways experts recommend to support your child’s immune system:
- Encourage personal hygiene - Protecting your kid from illness starts with trying your best to keep them from being exposed to infections in the first place, explains Dr. Maya Adam, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Stanford University. And the biggest way to do that is by encouraging handwashing as often as they can, as well as social distancing and wearing masks.
- Follow immunization schedules - Kids under 12 can’t get the COVID vaccine yet, but keeping up with their other vaccinations is essential for their long-term health.
- Feed them the rainbow - Experts agree that balanced nutrition is important to support immune function and that means feeding your kids a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Foods high in zinc and vitamins B, C and A help immune cells fight infection, according to Dr. Mark Corkins, the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on nutrition.
- Promote gut health - The microbiome in our GI tract helps regulate how our immune system works and foods with probiotics, like yogurt and sourdough bread, help support the microbiome.
- Prioritize sleep - Our bodies regenerate when we’re asleep, so helping your kids maintain a healthy sleep routine is crucial for immune function. Having them wind down by listening to meditation app audios or stories could help make the bedtime routine a little easier.
- Help them reduce stress - Keep an eye on your kid’s mental health because studies show that chronic stress can depress the immune system. Research finds that sitting down as a family for meals benefits kids’ mental health as it gives them time to bring up things and talk.
- Get them outside - Fresh air and sunshine is great for them and exercising releases mood-boosting chemicals, which can reduce stress and that helps support the immune system.