From doorknobs and computer keyboards to smartphones and countertops, germs are literally everywhere. Fortunately, our bodies have a natural defense mechanism that protects them against infectious disease and illness. When exposed to an invading microorganism, our immune system sends white blood cells to neutralize the threat.
But the immune system can’t always defend against infectious disease and illness. If your immune system is weak, you’ll probably get sick more frequently than someone with a strong immune system. Check out the following tips for strengthening your immune system.
1. Stay Physically Active
How much time do you spend exercising in a typical week? Reports show that only 1 in 5 Americans gets the 2.5 hours per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and 1 hour 15 minutes per week of vigorous exercise that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends. While there’s nothing wrong with kicking back and relaxing on occasion, you should stay active to keep your immune system functioning at optimal levels.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, leading a sedentary lifestyle reduces your body’s ability to fight infection, making you more susceptible to disease and illness. Consequently, staying physically active has the opposite effect by strengthening your immune system. When you are active, it stimulates your body’s white blood cells, strengthening them and improving their ability to fight infection.
2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Stress affects a person’s health in many ways, both mentally and physically. When you are stressed, your body becomes more susceptible to infectious disease and illness.
This theory was confirmed by Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Dr. Ronald Glaser of Ohio State University’s College of Medicine. For more than a decade, the duo monitored their medical students, paying close attention to the correlation between the students’ stress levels and their rates of illness. Dr. Kiecolt-Glaser and Dr. Glaser discovered that the students’ immune systems were less effective under the stress of a 3-day exam than on non-exam days; when students took exams, they had fewer white blood cells, fewer gamma interferons, and fewer T cells.
Stress causes the body to release more stress hormones like cortisol. As the level of cortisol rises, it suppresses the immune system. The bottom line is that you need to relax and manage your stress.
Here are some tips to lower your stress levels:
- Perform deep breathing by inhaling slowly, holding for 2–3 seconds, and then exhaling.
- Express your thoughts and feelings by writing them down in a daily journal.
- Don’t be afraid to say no to friends, family members, or business colleagues.
- Avoid confrontations with people who make you feel stressed.
- Watch a comedy movie or TV show; laughter relieves stress and anxiety naturally.
- Set aside part of your day for a hobby or activity that you enjoy. Whether it’s playing the guitar, reading a book, or just lounging on your patio, do something that makes YOU happy.
- Spend time with your friends—social engagement lowers stress levels.
- Light a scented candle. Studies have shown aromatherapy can reduce stress.
- Join a yoga group at your local gym.
3. Limit Sugar Intake
It may satisfy your sweet tooth, but sugar also suppresses your immune system. A study published in Dental Survey found that people who drank just two 12-ounce sodas made neutrophils in the gut less active, thus reducing their effectiveness at killing bad germs.
You don’t have to cut all sugar from your diet, but you should certainly be conscious of how much you consume. According to some reports, the average American consumes approximately 82.5 grams of sugar per day. That’s two to three times more than the daily allowance recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA).
4. Eat More Fruits and Veggies
In addition to reducing sugar intake, you should increase your fruit and vegetable intake. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain beneficial nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and even beta-carotene, offering a powerhouse combination that strengthens the immune system.
A good rule of thumb to follow when preparing your meals is to make them as colorful as possible. Colorful vegetables like squash, red bell pepper, zucchini, and spinach contain a plethora of beneficial nutrients, many of which support the immune system.
5. Avoid Smoking and Alcohol
Two things you should try to avoid are cigarette smoking and alcohol. Both of these habits have been known to suppress the immune system. Cigarette smoke contains some 4,000 chemicals, some of which are known to cause cancer. Alcohol causes damage to the liver and kidneys, weakening the body while making it more susceptible to infection.
6. Soak Up the Sun
While prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays can lead to early aging and an increased risk of skin cancer, limited exposure is actually beneficial. Sun exposure causes the body to produce vitamin D, a powerful immune booster that assists the body in warding off foreign invaders.
Live Science describes a study in which researchers recruited 247 children, assigning them to one of two groups: the first group of children drank regular milk, while the second group drank vitamin D–fortified milk. Researchers discovered that children who drank the vitamin D–fortified milk had half as many cold infections as the control group who drank the regular milk. This study suggests that vitamin D—and subsequently sun exposure—can strengthen your immune system.
Following the tips outlined here can reduce your risk of catching a cold, flu, or other infectious illness. For more information on how to strengthen your immune system and live a healthier life, contact us today.