5 everyday ways to build your child’s immune system
- Sleep and physical activity are vital for the immune system
- Eating a whole and healthy balanced diet is key
- Vitamin D through healthy sun exposure is linked to building the immune system
Our immune system is our front-line defence against illness and infection. When babies are born, their immune systems aren’t fully developed. Instead, they evolve and grow along with the child – not peaking until puberty. As a parent, you understandably want to give your child the best chance possible to develop a robust immune system. Here are 5 simple tips for helping to support your little one’s immune system function.
1. Ensure your child is well rested
There’s a reason daily nap-time is important, and it’s not just because it gives you a short window for some peace and quiet. Research has shown that there’s a direct link between sleep cycles and an efficient immune system. Quality sleep supports immune responses including the system’s ability to recognise bugs and bacteria it has encountered before, allowing little ones to fight off future infections.
2. Focus on whole foods
The foundations of a robust immune system are found in the foods that your little one eats. The essential vitamins and minerals found in whole foods play an important role in a developing immune system (as well as a growing body). Wherever possible, ensure your toddler is consuming plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and meat. Do your best to steer away from packaged or overly processed foods, as they tend to be rich in saturated fats, added sugar and salt – all things that can encourage harmful bacteria to multiply in the body and weaken immune defences (although, the occasional treat is OK!).
3. Include nutrients in the diet that support the immune system
Beyond whole foods, there are specific nutrients that may help the immune system. For example, the mineral zinc plays a central role in keeping the immune system functioning. Research shows that zinc is an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties, so make sure your child is eating plenty of foods rich in zinc, like meat, cashew butter and shellfish (if you’ve established your little one is not allergic). Additionally, our Aptamil Gold+ 3 and Aptamil Gold+ 4 products contain zinc, to support immune system function and lay the foundations for your child’s future progress. It is important to remember that nutritional supplements should only be used as part of a balanced diet.
4. Get moving together
Physical activity is important at any age, and several theories have suggested that moderate activity can support immune function. Plus, when your little one explores the backyard they’re likely to get a little grubby, which can be a good thing. As your child roams the outdoors, they’ll be exposed to bacteria that form naturally in your local environment. As the immune system deals with these relatively harmless species, it primes itself for dealing with more serious infections.
5. Have some fun in the sun
Vitamin D – formed in the skin when it’s exposed to sunlight – is a compound that plays an important role in your little one’s health. Not only is it necessary for bone structure, but it has also been linked to immune response. Studies have shown that a vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased autoimmunity – an abnormal response where the body’s immune system turns against healthy cells. Children of parents who are vitamin D deficient, and those living with autoimmune disease, may want to consider supplementation under the guidance of a healthcare professional. If your child doesn’t belong to either of these groups, the Cancer Council recommends spending a few minutes outside each day in summer and some physical activity (like playtime) outside during the colder months. For most children, this is enough to maintain adequate vitamin D levels.