7 Good Habits to Boost Your Immune System

7 Good Habits to Boost Your Immune System

By Floyd Miller

 

 

 

Laura A. Magnifico/ Walgreens ArticleSniffling, sneezing and coughing are the telltale sounds of the cold and flu season. This year, don’t suffer from these uncomfortable symptoms. Instead, adopt the same healthy habits of those who never seem to get sick. How do they do it? Read on to learn how to boost your immune system and stay healthy. They get the flu shotIn addition to being a nuisance, the flu can be dangerous and even deadly for many Americans. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get an annual flu vaccine. It takes about two weeks for your body to build up the antibodies to fight the flu, so getting the shot as soon as possible is best. The flu season in the U.S. usually peaks between December and February, but can start as early as October and last through May.They wash their hands Frequent hand—washing is an important way to prevent the spread of cold and flu viruses – yet only 5 percent of the population is using proper technique. So how do you do it right? Wet your hands, add soap, and rub your hands together for 20 seconds, says the CDC. Lather between your fingers and under your nails. Rinse and dry completely. And only touch your face if your hands are clean. “Many viruses are not only spread from infected persons coughing and sneezing around you, but are also spread on objects, like doorknobs,” says Kathryn Boling, MD, a family medicine physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. When you touch an object that others have handled, then touch your eyes or mouth, you may be introducing germs that could make you sick.They eat wellYour mom was right when she insisted that you eat your fruits and vegetables. A healthy diet with several servings of fruits and vegetables and foods containing plenty of omega–3 fatty acids can help you avoid getting sick, Dr. Boling says. “Omega–3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation,” she explains. “Some studies have also shown they are beneficial in boosting immune response.” Sardines, salmon, mackerel, and other fatty fish are rich food sources of omega—3s; you’ll also get them in lower concentrations from flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, kidney beans, and soybeans.Some of the top foods to boost your immune system:• Butternut squash, carrots, red pepper, pumpkin, and mango: These orange—hued foods come loaded with beta—carotene, which your body uses to fend off respiratory infections.• Yogurt: As a great source of probiotics – “good” gut bacteria – yogurt may fortify the health of your intestines, your body’s initial battleground for many contagious bugs.• Mushrooms: In one study, mice that were fed mushroom powder for 10 weeks had increased activity of crucial immune system cells.1 • Black tea and green tea: These are high in special plant chemicals called alkylamines, which researchers think boosts the immune system; drinking several cups daily may help fortify the body against germs.• Apples, citrus, onions: These foods are all rich in quercetin, an antioxidant at least one study has linked to prevention of upper respiratory infections .They exerciseAccording to the National Institutes of Health, exercise not only helps keep your heart healthy and lowers your chance of developing osteoporosis and certain types of cancer, it also aids your immune system in fighting off certain viral infections. Researchers haven’t pinpointed exactly how exercise strengthens your immunity to cold and flu, but here are some of the theories under consideration:• Exercise speeds movement of antibodies and white blood cells through the body, possibly helping them detect illness—causing microorganisms sooner. • Exercise raises the body’s temperature, which is believed to prevent the growth of bacteria, helping the body battle infection. • Exercise reduces the release of stress—related hormones .They get enough sleepA Carnegie Mellon University study revealed that individuals who average fewer than seven hours of sleep a night are nearly three times more likely to come down with a cold than those who regularly sleep eight hours or more. Lack of sleep causes a dip in infection-fighting antibodies and cells, making you vulnerable to any number of viruses. How much is enough? While sleep needs vary, adults should aim for seven to eight hours each night.They don’t smoke, and they don’t drink too muchDr. Boling’s advice to her patients: “Do not smoke and, if you drink alcohol, drink in moderation – no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women and two per day for men.” Regularly consuming alcohol in excess — three or more drinks — has been shown to deplete the body of nutrients and interfere with infection—fighting white blood cells. They control their stressStress not only makes you tense and anxious, it can also wreak havoc on your immune system. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, research has found that people who are under chronic stress have lower white blood cell counts and tend to get sick more often. “Studies have documented that people under stress, like the caregivers of a sick relative, could not mount an immune response as effectively as those who are not under stress when both were given a vaccine, and when antibody levels were later measured,” Dr. Boling says. “Taking time to meditate, to get a massage, or to just relax every day can reduce stress, which will ultimately boost the immune system.”Margot Hedlin is a science and health writer living in San Francisco. Reviewed by Joseph Sclafani, MD on December 13, 2013