Woman experiencing flu symptoms after catching the flu

Top 5 immune-boosting tips to avoid catching the flu

Written on February 22, 2023 by Theresa Vuskovich, DMD. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

The flu is a viral infection affecting millions of Americans each year [1]. The flu can give you a stuffy nose, sore throat, and cough [1]. When you have a weakened immune system, the flu can cause more severe symptoms, such as heart inflammation [2]. Your immune system consists of specialized cells capable of recognizing foreign pathogens and protecting you from them [3]. Keeping your immune system strong throughout the year can help you avoid the flu. Here are the top 5 immune-boosting tips to avoid catching the flu.

Get your annual flu shot

The best way to avoid catching the flu is to get your annual flu shot [1, 4, 6]. The annual flu shot increases antibodies in your body to protect you against several strains of the influenza virus [8,9]. As a result, the flu shot boosts your immune system and reduces your risk of catching the flu by 40-60% [5].

Vaccines induce adaptive immunity, allowing your body to remember how to fight off a specific pathogen now and in the future [10]. The effectiveness of an influenza vaccine varies by year and within communities [5].

Flu vaccines come in various types and are made in different ways [5, 7, 8]. Traditional vaccines use eggs to create the vaccine, but new vaccines use advanced technology to develop egg-free flu vaccines. Recombinant flu vaccines are the newest vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [7,8]. Talk to your healthcare provider about which type of flu shot is best for you [8].

Regardless of the type of flu shot you receive, there are many benefits to getting your annual flu shot. The benefits of getting your seasonal flu shot include [5]:

  • Protecting people around you from catching the flu
  • Reducing the risk of flu-associated hospitalization by 82%
  • Reducing the severity of illness

Eat healthy foods

Another way to enhance your immune system is by eating healthy foods. Healthy foods provide essential nutrients to your immune cells, making them more capable of fighting the flu [10]. Vitamin C can boost your immune system by enhancing the growth of immune cells [17]. Vitamin C is present in various foods, including citrus fruits, leafy green, and peppers. Vitamin C supplements may also help you avoid the flu [17].

Certain foods can help strengthen your adaptive immune system. These foods include broccoli, mushrooms, brown rice, walnuts, onions, and garlic [10]. All of these foods are staples in the Mediterranean diet.

Consuming alcohol in moderation

Too much alcohol can make your immune system less effective at fighting the flu. Alcohol can reduce the number of B cells in your body [11]. B cells are a type of white blood cell responsible for producing antibodies and memory cells [11].

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), men can drink two drinks daily, while women can drink one [12]. A drink is considered 12 ounces (oz) of beer, 8 oz of malt liquor, 5 oz of wine, and 1.5 oz of distilled liquor [12].

Exercise regularly

Regular physical activity can boost your immune system [13]. Exercising at a moderate level for about 60 minutes can increase the number of immature B cells [13]. Maintaining a healthy weight may also reduce your risk of a flu infection [14].

Examples of moderate-intensity exercise include [18]:

  • Walking at a brisk pace
  • Dancing
  • Gardening
  • Water aerobics
  • Biking slower than 10 miles per hour

Make sleep and rest a priority

Getting enough sleep at night can help you fight the flu. A lack of sleep decreases the production of antibodies, which increases your risk of infections [15]. The average adult requires at least 7 hours of sleep every night. You can improve your sleep by:

  • Keeping a consistent sleep schedule
  • Avoiding large meals late at night
  • Turning off electronics 30 minutes before bedtime
  • Exercising regularly,
  • Taking a warm bath before bed

In addition to these five ways to boost your immune system, here are some other healthy habits you can follow to avoid catching the flu [16]:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Clean your hands often
  • Keep frequently touched surfaces at home, work, or school clean and disinfected
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth

Treatment for the flu is available via Everlywell

If you do experience flu symptoms, you can get treatment for the flu through telehealth via Everlywell. You can schedule a 30-minute virtual care visit with a nurse practitioner who can diagnose the flu and prescribe medications. You can get your prescriptions sent to your local pharmacy.

Flu medications can reduce your risk of complications. There are three common flu medications: oseltamivir (Tamiflu®), zanamivir (Relenza®), and peramivir (Rapivab®). Medications reduce the spread of the flu virus and can speed up your recovery.

To learn more, visit Everlywell's flu treatment online appointment scheduler.

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  2. Flu symptoms & complications. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Published November 30, 2022. Accessed February 22, 2023.
  3. Overview of the Immune System. Merck Manual Consumer Version. URL. Published September 2021. Accessed February 18, 2023.
  4. Uyeki TM, Bernstein HH, Bradley JS, et al. Clinical practice guidelines by the infectious diseases society of America: 2018 update on diagnosis, treatment, chemoprophylaxis, and institutional outbreak management of seasonal influenza. Clin Infect Dis. 2019;68(6):895-902. doi:10.1093/cid/ciy874. URL.
  5. Vaccine effectiveness: How well do flu vaccines work? CDC. URL. Published February 8, 2023. Accessed February 17, 2023.
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  11. Szabo G, Saha B. Alcohol's Effect on Host Defense. Alcohol Res. 2015;37(2):159-170. URL
  12. Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health. Learn the facts. Cdc.gov. URL. Published October 24, 2022. Accessed February 22, 2023.
  13. Nieman DC, Wentz LM. The compelling link between physical activity and the body's defense system. J Sport Health Sci. 2019;8(3):201-217. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009. URL
  14. Zhao X, Gang X, He G, et al. Obesity increases the severity and mortality of influenza and COVID-19: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2020;11:595109. doi:10.3389/fendo.2020.595109. URL
  15. Module 2. Sleep and the Immune System (Continued). Cdc.gov. URL. Published April 2, 2020. Accessed February 17, 2023.
  16. Healthy habits to help protect against flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). URL. Published December 12, 2022. Accessed February 18, 2023.
  17. Carr AC, Rowe S. The Emerging Role of Vitamin C in the Prevention and Treatment of COVID-19. Nutrients. 2020;12(11):3286. URL. Published 2020 October 27. doi:10.3390/nu12113286.
  18. American heart association recommendations for physical activity in adults and kids. www.heart.org. URL. Accessed February 22, 2023.
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