Jan 05, 2023

Research Immunity Survey 2023

Maintaining a healthy immune system

Whether we’re getting ready for the winter, or enjoying the summer months, finding simple and sustainable ways to support the immune system is an all year-round endeavour.  

According to Immunologist Dr Jenna Macchiochi, interest in the immune system among the general public has increased in recent years, a statement echoed in our new research of 2,000 UK adults. However, Dr Jenna says that despite a sea of information at our fingertips, understanding how to maintain our health and wellbeing seems more challenging than ever. 

Here, together with Dr Jenna, we’re taking a look at what the immune system is and why it’s so important. We’ll also be discussing some of the more sustainable ways in which we can support our immune system, including our diet, vitamin D and movement.   

What is the immune system and why is it important?

When it comes to keeping your body healthy, your immune system has a vital role to play. Made up of a complex set of cells and functions1, your immune system works around the clock to protect you from things that might negatively affect your health.

Many things can affect the normal function of your immune system - lack of exercise, unhealthy diet and poor sleeping habits being just a few examples.

Making immune health a priority

82% of those surveyed said that supporting their health and immune system is a priority. Regardless of age, gender and where in the country we live, keeping our immune system healthy is something we feel strongly about.

The Covid-19 pandemic may well have impacted our viewpoints, with 37% of people surveyed saying that they’ve started to take their immune system health more seriously in the last 24 months. When our health is at stake, we’re motivated to take action - just like the immune system itself.

Motivation to support better immune health

Whilst the start of new year often signals healthier diets and exercise programmes, it’s vital to ensure that the actions we take to support our immune system are sustainable. As Dr Jenna suggests, “often we feel compelled to make life-changing transformations.  These can be good to orientate you in the right direction, but they can lead you to take on more than you can handle”. 

This is a sentiment echoed by the research, with 34% of those surveyed having tried things like acupuncture, ice baths and colonic irrigation. A further 27% have considered mixing with ill people in order to support the health of their immune system.  

32% of the people surveyed are so keen to support their immune system, they’ve made a New Year’s resolution to do so in the past. Historically however, 43% have only managed to maintain these resolutions for a period of 3-4 weeks or less.

A more sustainable approach to immune health

According to Dr Jenna, some of the ‘bigger’ life changes we try to implement as a new year begins can very quickly become overwhelming. The research found that 50% of people experienced a lack of motivation, leading them to leave their good intentions behind. 44% said that their goals didn’t fit with existing routines, and 32% felt as though they were unsustainable.

70% believe adopting small daily habits could be a more sustainable approach. And Dr Jenna agrees; “Rather than the big life-changing changes, focus on daily habits - tiny routines, decisions you make and actions you perform that are repeatable in the here and now”. 

The science of habits

Just how long does it take to form a habit? Dr Jenna has been taking a look. A 2010 study2 showed that on average, it takes 66 days to establish a new healthy habit. During the study, participants took anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit, demonstrating that everyone is different. The key is to make your habits small enough so that you can sustain them. 

“Just think about brushing your teeth… there would have been a time in our childhood when you picked up a toothbrush for the first time and had no idea what to do with it, let alone repeat brushing daily. It would have taken small repeated daily efforts to engrain it into our brain circuitry, transforming it into a habit. Gradually, over time these repeated routines, actions and behaviours become habits, with a curious life of their own”.  - Dr Jenna Macchiochi

Ways to support your immune system

Your immune system can be affected, positively or negatively, by a number of factors. Some things, like our gender, age and genetics are out of our control. But there are plenty of things we can control in order to support the function of our immune system. And the great news is that many of them are easy to incorporate into everyday life.

Diet - what foods are good for the immune system?

The cells in your immune system require energy to function properly, and they get this energy from the food you eat. More specifically, they get it from the nutrients contained in the food you eat3, including vitamins B6 and D and zinc, selenium, and iron4

That’s why ensuring that you eat a well-balanced and varied diet is very important to support the normal function of your immune system.

Vitamin D intake and the immune system

Vitamin D is essential for our health, and supports the immune system’s normal function5. Also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, it’s a fat-soluble vitamin that our skin can synthesise by using direct sunlight6.   

When we’re not getting enough sunshine, it’s important to incorporate foods that contain vitamin D into our daily diets - egg yolks, pork, lamb and oily fish are all good sources of vitamin D7.

Movement and the immune system

The benefits of physical activity for your immune system are numerous. Amongst other things, it can minimise the risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, as well as dementia and depression8.  Dr Jenna tells us that “habitual moderate to vigorous exercise reduces the risk of upper respiratory tract infections (like the common cold) over a 12-week period by more than 40%9”. That’s a pretty impressive statistic.

However, there is a danger that we’re simply not moving enough on a daily basis. As Dr Jenna points out, “modern advances make our lives easier, but they've led many of us to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. Moving less and sitting for long periods of time means we’re missing out on all of these immune supporting benefits”.

A further problem is the fact that the word ‘exercise’ can conjure up images of unsustainable and intensive efforts, which can affect our motivation and in turn, our actions. On that point, Dr Jenna has some welcome words of encouragement; 

“The good news is that breaking up sedentary time and being more physically active doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym… Running on a treadmill for an hour or hitting an intense gym class isn’t the only form of exercise! Reframe exercise as ‘movement’ and drop the rules. We’re more likely to repeatedly do things that we enjoy. What’s important is getting your heart rate up and using your muscles – it doesn’t matter how you do it. Your workout also doesn’t need to last as long as you think. Aim for the 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week recommended by the NHS9 and go from there.  Remember you can split this as you see fit, and even break it down into short bursts. Any activity is better than none, and more is better still.  My ethos is that we just need to move more, move more often, and move in lots of different ways”.   

Some really simple ways to get moving include:

  • Household chores such as cleaning 

  • Gardening  

  • Skipping  

  • Taking the stairs instead of the lift 

  • Walking short journeys instead of taking the car 


You could also try dancing, a really fun way to get you moving. Dr Jenna says that “dance has been shown to lower stress10, a known immunity disruptor, and have broad health benefits including improving cognitive function and brain health10”. 

For dances which fit easily into your daily routines, take a look at our Im-Move-Ity campaign, with Dr Jenna and Strictly Come Dancing’s Giovanni Pernice, and get ready to have some fun whilst supporting your immune system health!


  1. Calder PC. Feeding the immune system. Proc Nutr Soc. 2013;72(3):299-309. doi:10.1017/S0029665113001286. Available at [Accessed January 2023] 
  2. Lally, Van Jaarsveld, Potts & Wardle 2010: How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Available at [Accessed January 2023]  
  3. Childs CE, Calder PC, Miles EA. Diet and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2019 Aug 16;11(8):1933. doi: 10.3390/nu11081933. PMID: 31426423; PMCID: PMC6723551. Available at [Accessed January 2023] 
  4. NHS (2022) Eating a balanced diet. Available at: [Accessed January 2023] 
  5. [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. The innate and adaptive immune systems. [Updated 2020 Jul 30]. Available at [Accessed January 2023] 
  6. British Nutritional Foundation (2021) Vitamin D and Immunity. Available at [Accessed January 2023] 
  7. British Nutrirional Foundation (2021) Vital Vitamin D! Avaiale at [Accessed January 2023] 
  8. NHS (2021) Benefits of exercise. Available at [Accessed January 2023] 
  9. Matthews CE, Ockene IS, Freedson PS, Rosal MC, Merriam PA, Hebert JR. Moderate to vigorous physical activity and risk of upper-respiratory tract infection. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002;34(8):1242-1248. doi:10.1097/00005768-200208000-00003. Available at [Accessed January 2023] 
  10. Murrock CJ, Graor CH. Effects of dance on depression, physical function, and disability in underserved adults. J Aging Phys Act. 2014;22(3):380-385. doi:10.1123/japa.2013-0003. Available at [Accessed January 2023] 

*Actimel Core, Plus, Dairy Free & 00 range contain Vitamins D and B6 to help support the normal function of the immune system. Actimel kids contains vitamin D to support the normal function of the immune system in children. **Actimel 0% Fat 0% Added Sugars : No added sugars, contains naturally occurring sugars. ***Except for Actimel Kids range. ****Vitamin B6 contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism. △RI: Reference intake of an average adult (8400 KJ/2000 Kcal) (as per Food Information Regulations). Enjoy as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.