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A walk in the forest can boost immune health. Photo credit: Ryan O'Leary / EyeEm / Getty Images

Many people know that maintaining a healthy lifestyle includes getting a good night’s rest and eating a balanced diet. However, people are also guilty of approaching their health with a maintenance mindset, and sadly, may refer to taking care of themselves as “indulging in” self-care. On the contrary, taking care of yourself also has the added benefit of improving the very mechanisms your body uses to fight off disease and soothe stress.

The solutions to better immune health are more practical and simpler than you think. However, that also means that we have to bust a few “well-known general health tip” myths as health isn’t an “one size fits all” solution. Here are ten ways to boost your body’s natural defenses to get you started (all science and no hype).

1. Know Your Sleep Pattern, Then Honor It

According to Harvard University, poor sleep means a slow and grumpy immune system, triggering inflammation in the body. In turn, infections influence the amount of sleep you get and when. In general, not sleeping well may be linked with forcing your body to sleep at a time it just won’t do.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep for adults and longer hours for young adults. However, the foundation also recognizes that not everyone has a preset sleeping pattern. Here are three sleep patterns we know of, one of which your body’s circadian rhythm may naturally fall into:

  • Monophasic: You usually get your sleep in one stretch, even if you wake up to go to the bathroom.
  • Biphasic: You sleep in two stretches, one longer period (say five hours) and one shorter period (say two hours).
  • Polyphasic: You sleep in several stretches or segments throughout the day/night.

How do you know if your sleep pattern is healthy for you? You start by asking: What is my norm, and do I feel well-rested and energetic?

Some people keep a dream journal, but they should also keep a sleep journal. Pay attention to what time your body naturally feels inclined to wake up and rest to find your chronotype. Your circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) can be adapted to your schedule, but your chronotype is more biologically ingrained, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Then, you can work with your body and your daily obligations to more naturally sync them up.

2. Stay Hydrated 

Many people accept the old advice of "drinking eight eight-ounce glasses of water daily" as a hard rule for adequate water intake. The hydration need of each body differs, however. There's no Universal Hydration Law to abide by. Many people stay hydrated by drinking water and other fluids when they feel thirsty. Trust your knowledge of your body.

Around 22% of water intake comes from food for Americans, according to a 2010 analysis published in Nutrition Reviews. U.S. Dietary Recommendations for water consumption are based on “median water intakes,” but these aren’t connected with measurements of dehydration status of the population to assist. There are also no adequate biomarkers to assure hydration status at the population level, according to researchers, and water intake differs among age groups. 

Water intake includes soft water, hard water, carbonated or distilled, as well as “food water” and water intake at the cellular level. Drinking coffee and tea counts. Besides, your immune health is dependent on the nutrients flowing through your bloodstream, and your bloodstream is made up of mostly water, as is your body. Staying hydrated is essential for detoxification pathways to do their jobs: like the lymph system draining out pathogens. We talk a lot about detox teas but not enough about how hydration does the job right from the start.

Notice signs of dehydration, such as thirst, dark yellow urine, lightheadedness, fatigue, and dry mouth, lips and eyes. Dehydration can happen easily if you have a high alcohol intake, sweat a lot or have a persistent high temperature, for example. Thirst can also be a craving for a certain type of food and its unique nutrients.

3. Increase Plant-Based Foods in Your Diet

At mealtime, is your plate filled with color? The USDA advocates for making half your plate fruits and vegetables.

The Anderson Cancer Center shares that a plant-based diet fortifies the immune system to safeguard you against microorganisms and germs. The center indicates that plant foods also reduce inflammation, and a healthy immune system can respond quickly to identify and eliminate pathogens before they progress to disease.

While eating some meat each week isn’t bad for you, a balanced diet remains important. A plant-based diet centered around fried plant foods isn’t as healthy. Including variety, such as chickpeas and tofu, is what makes the diet healthier and well-rounded.

4. Bathe in the Forest (or at Least Smell the Honeysuckle)

Yes, nature showers are just as important as regular showers. The New York State Department of Conservation advocates for forest visits to improve immune health, and several studies the department cites also support the benefits of forest bathing. This translated term was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as “shinrin-yoku” in 1982. However, you can also get some benefits simply by staring at nature scenes: Patients with “green” views in their rooms have shown a quicker recovery time and took fewer pain killers, among one of the department’s examples provided.

More recently, a 2019 systematic review published in Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine analyzed the merit of forest bathing on health. Researchers collected 210 papers spanning dates between 2015 and 2019, retaining 28 papers that met the study’s inclusion criteria. Researchers found that forest bathing activities may improve people’s psychological and physical health significantly

Forest bathing allows for intervention in the subhealth state, a period between health and disease: This is when you notice symptoms like fatigue, poor sleep, pain and cognitive challenges. Subhealth also increases the risk of infection and reduces the ability of the immune system to respond as aptly. Exposure to nature could provide stress relief before things get worse before they get better. 

With issues concerning pollution, there’s an increased need for city planners to consider marrying urban and natural environments as more and more people reside in cities. Finding respite on an evening walk with the dog also counts — your dog thoroughly investigates every fire hydrant, and you smell the honeysuckle overtaking a fence that should have been replaced when you were born. Every mindful moment spent in nature, however distilled, still counts.

5. Don’t Let Stress Slip By

Stress weakens your immune system, according to the American Psychological Association. In the 1980s, immunologist Ronald Glaser, Ph.D., and psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D., were intrigued by animal studies linking stress with infection. So they ran a study on how stress affected medical students: Every year for a decade, the pair discovered that immunity decreased for the same three-day exam period as stress skyrocketed. The association also cites recent studies linking loneliness and social isolation with lowered immune health.

During times of stress, make a note of it and accept that these periods occur. It does not reflect who you are as a person or your capabilities. Turn to healthy coping methods where possible, reaching out to loved ones, engaging in various hobbies, exercising, resting and reading. Where one thing does not work, open yourself up to trying new things for the novelty, such as taking an improv class.

6. Nurture Your Gut Microbiota

Probiotics nurture your gut bacteria and help balance the gut biome. These beneficial bacteria support immune health, in addition to improving other conditions. Natural probiotic health foods include yogurt, sourdough bread and kimchi. However, you can also take probiotics orally as capsules.

One 2019 study published in Annals of Nutritional and Metabolism identifies probiotics as an emerging way to naturally treat allergies, recover the histology of intestinal bacteria and prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Once ingested, oral probiotics interact with immune cells to activate natural immune mechanisms in the body that help protect against pathogens without making your immune system panic (no inflammatory reactions such as hives). 

Yes, probiotics taken orally can be effective. Just take them as directed.

7. Exercise at Least Moderately

The CDC recommends moderate-intensity exercise with two days of strength training regularly as a tool for boosting immune health and lowering one’s risk of chronic disease.

There’s also a myth going around that intense exercise suppresses the immune system. A 2020 analysis published in Exercise Immunology Review related that there’s little evidence to support this: Athletes dealing with immune issues are dealing with poor sleep and diet as the more relevant contributors.

8. Dance More, Flow More

Dance benefits overall health by strengthening the immune system through physiological processes and muscular processes, according to an older study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Dance conditions an individual to moderate, eliminate or avoid tension and chronic fatigue, which can also apply to other conditions linked with stress.

A 2021 comparative study published in Frontiers analyzed the effects of tai chi and square dancing on older empty nesters for immune health, physical health and life satisfaction. The control group consisted of sedentary participants. Results showed the greatest improved health outcomes for those in the tai chi group but great life satisfaction in the square dancing group. Whereas tai chi is more individually-directed, square dancing is a group activity. Researchers suggested tai chi for those who wish to improve immune-related health concerns.

9. Take Care of Your Skin

You are born with innate immune mechanisms that detect and block germs from entering your body, and this includes your skin. 

Protect your skin to preserve its defense capabilities. Eating a whole food balanced diet and staying hydrated ensures your skin is healthy. 

Avoiding harsh chemicals and having a good skincare routine also help protect your skin. According to the CDC, you should wear a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 that blocks UVA and UVB rays.

10. Keep Up With Checkups

General health checks were associated with increased chronic disease recognition and treatment, risk factor control, preventive service uptake, and improved patient-reported outcomes, according to a 2021 review published in JAMA.

Talk with your doctor about natural ways to boost your body’s natural defenses, like the tips shared above, to better your health now and prevent future issues down the line.

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Photo credit: Photo credit: Anikona / iStock / Getty Images Plus

It’s estimated that the average household wastes more than 30% of the food it obtains – a staggering statistic with both financial and environmental consequences. One hundred and forty million acres of land are needed to produce this lost or wasted food each year, which is about the size of New York and California combined.

Storing foods properly to avoid spoilage can eliminate some of this waste, especially when paired with better shopping and meal-planning habits.

Use this guide to keep common household fruits and vegetables fresh for longer and keep food out of the compost bin.

The Basics

There are three main things to consider when storing fresh fruits and vegetables: ethylene, airflow, and temperature.

Ethylene gas is naturally released by some fruits and quickens the ripening (and decay) of nearby produce. Knowing the ethylene production and sensitivity of fresh fruits and vegetables is essential to running a waste-free kitchen, as is knowing the airflow-needs of produce.

It’s also important to understand the temperature regions of your fridge. Generally, top shelves and doors are warmer, while lower areas and the back of the fridge are cooler. Drawers – like the crisper – are cool and retain humidity, and some even have a piece that can be adjusted to let moisture out or trap it in. Label these sections to more consciously store produce and prevent spoilage

Apples

To prevent apples from getting mealy, store them in the refrigerator. Keep other produce away from this high-ethylene-producing fruit to protect them from premature decay, or stow all the apples in a bag. If you’re really dedicated, wrap each apple in reusable beeswax paper to prevent one rotting fruit from spoiling the bunch.

Avocados

These fruits are notoriously finicky and require a well-trained hand to determine ripeness by the touch. 

Store avocados in a cool area of the kitchen and, if you’re not quite ready to use them when they’ve fully ripened, transfer to the refrigerator. Refrain, however, from putting the fruit in the fridge too early; the cold can halt the ripening process, leaving you with a hard avocado that ends up in the compost.  

Preventing cut avocados from browning will also cut down on food waste in the kitchen. Store halved avocados in a container with an onion, or rub the exposed flesh with lemon juice, which prevents the fruit from oxidizing and turning brown

Bananas

Bananas release high levels of ethylene gas, so it’s best to store them alone on the counter – preferably hanging from a banana hook where they aren’t putting pressure on one another. Once they’re ripe, bananas can be moved to the fridge for a couple of days until you’re ready to eat them, but don’t move the fruit before they’re ripe. Buying a bunch that’s still a little green is a good way to ensure that you’re not stuck with a bunch of overripe fruit too quickly. 

Bell Peppers

To prevent bell peppers from getting wrinkly and soft, keep them in the fridge, where they’ll last 1-2 weeks if separated from ethylene-gas-producing fruits. Peppers go bad quickly when too moist, so be sure to dry them off before storing, and don’t wash until you’re ready to use them.

Berries

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries should be refrigerated in a sealed container with a little airflow, lined with towels to prevent buildup of moisture. Keep the lid slightly ajar, or use a container with holes in it. 

Berries will spoil quickly when moist, so don’t wash before storing, although strawberries will last longer if rinsed in a vinegar-water solution and thoroughly dried before chilling. Keep strawberry caps on too until it’s time to eat the fruit. 

Broccoli

This winter vegetable can handle cold temperatures; keep whole heads of broccoli in the cool crisper drawer, wrapped in a damp towel to stay fresh. To prevent mold, never leave the florets in a reusable silicone bag or wash them before storing. Even when stored properly, broccoli generally doesn’t keep very long, so be sure to use within a few days of purchasing.

Carrots and Celery

Keep cut carrots and celery submerged in a jar of water, where they will last for 2 weeks and a month respectively.

Whole carrots are pretty hardy and can last in the fridge on their own for a while; celery, however, likes to be wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in the refrigerator, but keeping it in plastic wrap will accelerate the process of decay.

Cauliflower

Although similar in appearance to broccoli, cauliflower doesn’t like much moisture and needs some air circulation to stay fresh. Keep the vegetable in a perforated bag with the head-side up so moisture doesn’t accumulate and cause rotting. Refraining from washing cauliflower before storing will also help prevent decay.

Citrus

There are different theories about storing citrus: some recommend more moisture, while others warn against it. 

Generally, it’s advised to keep lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, and other citrus fruits at room temperature until they hit peak ripeness (about a week), at which point they should be put in the fridge. Alternatively, place them in the fridge right after purchasing until you’re ready to eat them, then move to the countertop. Most citruses aren’t ethylene-sensitive and can be stored with ethylene-producing things; lemons and limes, however, are sensitive, and should separated. 

Evidence shows that citrus does like moisture, unlike many fruits. Some say that submerging lemons in water in the refrigerator will keep them fresh for weeks, as will storing them in a reusable silicone bag to keep humidity in. If you do keep citruses out of the refrigerator, take care not to pile the fruits on top of each other, which might lead to mold growth. 

Corn

The trick to storing corn is to keep it from drying out. Don’t expose the kernels, and don’t shuck it until you’re ready to eat it. Store the ears still in their husks in a reusable silicone bag in the crisper drawer until then. 

Cucumbers

The flavor of cucumbers is impacted by cold temperatures, and are thus best left on the counter. If you do want to extend their life by refrigerating, wrap them in a towel to keep dry and put in a reusable, cloth grocery bag for ventilation. Don’t wash the cucumbers before storing, and keep them towards the front of the fridge on a higher shelf to keep them from getting too cold.

Eggplant

Keep eggplants at room-temperature (not the refrigerator!) to maintain flavor and texture, although you’ll need to eat them within a few days. Ideally, choose a dark, dry, cool place with good circulation, but if you do leave eggplants on the counter, just keep them away from ethylene producers like bananas and tomatoes.

If you need the vegetable to last longer, wrap it in a towel, place in a hard-sided container to prevent bruising, and store in a fridge drawer. The flavor and texture of the nightshade, however, might be affected.

Grapes

While more convenient for snacking, don’t rinse grapes before cooling in the fridge; keep them dry and they’ll last up to a week. Grapes get wrinkly when left out, but they’ll thrive in a cold part of the fridge, like the back of the crisper drawer with its high humidity. Store in a bowl, colander, or container with holes to facilitate proper airflow. 

Green Onions & Scallions

Green onions are not only easy to store, but easy to regrow at home.

Place the onions with the root-side down in a jar of water and place on the windowsill, where they will continue growing. Chop off the green tops for cooking and place the bulbs back in the jar to get a second growth of greenery. The onions can also be stored this way in the fridge with their tops covered, or laid flat with the roots wrapped in a damp towel. 

Herbs

Not all herbs are created equal in storage; there are different methods for keeping soft- and hard-stemmed herbs fresh in the fridge.

For soft-stemmed herbs like mint, basil, parsley, dill, tarragon, and cilantro, place the stems in a jar with a few inches of water and put in the fridge. Rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, chives, and other hard-stemmed herbs should be wrapped in a damp towel and stored in a sealed container in the crisper drawer. 

Alternatively, if you find yourself with more herbs than you’ll be able to use before they begin to wilt, wash and dry the leaves, mix with olive oil, and store in the freezer in an ice cube tray. Pop out a cube and toss into a hot pan before sautéing vegetables or making a pasta sauce. 

Kale

There are a few competing theories about how to best store kale in the fridge, but generally, it’s recommended to wrap leaves in a towel to catch excess moisture and place the whole bunch in a reusable silicone bag. If you want to prep the leaves for use beforehand, remove the stems, wash, dry, and place in the bag with a towel. Some chefs advocate for wrapping kale in a damp towel to keep the leaves crisp, but they’ll need to be used sooner.

Melons

Always store melons out of the fridge when they’re whole and uncut; once sliced, cover or place in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Mushrooms

With their high water content, mushrooms have a tendency to get slimy when exposed to too much moisture. Keep them in a paper bag in the refrigerator, adding a towel to catch some extra moisture if you won’t get to them for a few days, although it’s best to eat most mushrooms within a week to 10 days.

Onions and Garlic

Onions and garlic can be stored together, but should be kept away from moisture in a low-humidity environment. Both like good air circulation, so a basket or mesh or paper bag is preferable for storage. Onions especially like a cool, dark place, like a closet or basement storage room, where they can last for months. Garlic can be left on a kitchen counter in a breathable container, but shouldn’t be kept in the fridge, where it’ll lose some of its flavor. 

Once cut, store onions in the fridge wrapped in beeswax wrap

Peaches

Like nectarines and apricots, peaches shouldn’t be kept in the fridge, which sucks their moisture, leaving you with a less-satisfying fruit. Keep them in a cool area of the kitchen, making sure they’re not stacked up on one another, which will lead to bruising. 

Pears

Pears are very similar to avocados and shouldn’t be put in the refrigerator until fully ripened, or they’ll stay hard. You can even use the same methods for preventing the oxidation of cut pears by rubbing a bit of lemon juice on the exposed areas. 

Potatoes and sweet potatoes

While potatoes should be stored similarly to onions, keep these two vegetables away from each other, for the gases emitted by onions will cause sprouting in the potatoes. Keep potatoes and yams in a dark, cool place, like a root (or wine) cellar, cabinet, closet, or drawer; the cold temperatures of a fridge will convert some of the potato’s starches to sugars, causing them to brown sooner and burn faster when fried. Leaving the potatoes in plastic bags also promotes spoilage, so keep them in a basket or other open container. 

Salad Greens

Wrap salad greens in a light, reusable dish towel or napkin to soak up water and keep leaves from getting soggy. To prevent excess moisture, don’t wash the greens until you’re ready to use them. If a whole head of lettuce is looking a little wilted, chop a bit off of the bottom and place in a shallow bowl of water to revive it. Alternatively, remove all of the leaves from the head, dry them, and store in an airtight container in the fridge. 

To revive limp greens, submerge them in a bowl of very cold water before eating. 

Stone Fruits

Cherries and plums need to be kept as cold as possible. Store near the back of the refrigerator on a low shelf, or in the crisper drawer. 

Summer Squash

Summer squashes like zucchini are similar to cucumbers, but prefer the fridge to the countertop. These squashes are best kept in a reusable plastic bag in the crisper drawer, but try not to chill the vegetables at temperatures any lower than 50ºF, which might cause chilling injuries. 

Tomatoes

Whatever you do, keep tomatoes out of the refrigerator

Store fresh tomatoes upside down in open, flat container at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. If they’re very ripe, move the fruit to the refrigerator until ready to use. The same method applies to grape and cherry tomatoes, which should be kept in bowl on the counter. 

Tomatoes give off ethylene gas, so keep them away from other fruits and vegetables. 

Tubers and Roots

Carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, ginger, and other roots and tubers are pretty easy to store. They don’t produce much ethylene and can be kept in the crisper drawer next to other vegetables. If they have greens (like carrots), chop those off before storing, as they pull moisture from the vegetable. 

Some – like radishes – will regain their crunch if soaked in ice water before eating.

Winter Squash

Winter squashes – butternut, acorn, kabocha, delicata, spaghetti, hubbard, etc. – should be kept out of the refrigerator, and can last on the countertop for weeks or months. If you need only part of the squash for a recipe, peel and chop the squash and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Along with her most recent position at Hunger Free America, she has interned with the Sierra Club in Washington, DC., Saratoga Living Magazine, and Philadelphia’s NPR Member Station, WHYY.

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Elephant twins in the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya on Jan. 20, 2022. Photo credit: Andrew Wasike / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A pair of extremely rare twin African elephants have been born in Northern Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve. The baby elephants were discovered by guides from Elephant Watch Camp, who had been trained by Save the Elephants (STE) — a UK charity based in Kenya — to recognize individual elephants and elephant families in the reserve, STE said in a press release. After being notified by the guides, STE researchers confirmed that there was one female and one male calf.

“Twins are rarely encountered in elephant populations — and form around only 1% of births. Quite often the mothers don't have enough milk to support two calves. In fact the birth of twins has only ever been recorded once before in Samburu in 2006. Sadly both calves died shortly after birth in Shaba National Reserve,” the STE press release said. “The next few days will be touch and go for the new twins but we all have our fingers crossed for their survival.”

The twins are the second birth of a female elephant named Bora who is from a family of elephants called Winds II. Her older calf was born in 2017 and was recently spotted in the same area as its mother and the twins.

“I have seen twins several times over my career and it’s always a big event for us… when we have had twins a couple of times before it wasn't a happy outcome. However, they can survive. It always causes quite a stir when they are born,” STE founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton told Newsweek.

African elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal, about 22 months, and give birth approximately every four years. The twin baby elephants will be monitored daily by the STE researchers, reported Newsweek. STE has been observing the Winds II family for decades.

Due to poaching and habitat loss, African elephants are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, according to BBC News. In 2020, the tourism ministry in Kenya reported that because of better efforts to fight poaching, the country’s elephant population had more than doubled from 16,000 in 1989 to 34,000 in 2018, as reported by Reuters.

The country’s first wildlife census in 2021 showed that Kenya’s elephant numbers had increased by about 12 percent to 36,280, Down to Earth reported.

According to Douglas-Hamilton, the new twin elephants were looking healthy, though perhaps somewhat small, reported Newsweek.

“The survival of the twins depends very much on the quality of the grass and vegetation and the experience of the matriarch,” Douglas-Hamilton told Newsweek. “This mother has had successful experience of raising a calf before and the fact that it has rained recently [means] the grass is green in Samburu and gives the little twins a greater chance of survival… We have to cross our fingers, but we are cautiously hopeful.”

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