If you’re like the average adult, you catch between two and four colds each year. Since the last thing anyone wants is to feel lousy from the runny nose, hacking cough, and achiness that viruses give us, how can we protect ourselves in the first place?
It all comes down to strengthening our immune system, or our body’s way of deflecting invading germs. Fortunately, there are several things you can do on a daily basis to ensure your immune system stays the strongest it can possibly be. Read on to learn what habits can boost your immunity.
Have you ever come down with a cold or the flu after a particularly stressful time? It’s no coincidence. Stress can run down the body and make you more susceptible to getting sick.
Chronic stress can hurt your body’s ability to fight off antigens and put you at risk for developing an illness or disease. The stress hormone cortisol lowers the number of white blood cells needed to help fight off infections.
Although stress is sometimes unavoidable, certain activities including exercise, practicing yoga and meditation, creating artwork, and spending time with friends can lower blood pressure and bring down stress levels. There are also many ways you can keep your mind in focus on stressful days. Maintaining a state of calm as often as possible will help your immune system perform its best.
If you’re getting less than the recommended eight hours of sleep each night, you may pay the price by easily catching a cold. A German study discovered that sleep deprivation affected the performance of T cells in the body, a protein that helps target foreign bodies that cause infections. Conversely, people who got enough sleep had improved T cell response.
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in sugar can help improve your immunity. Any foods containing vitamin C are a must—you can find it in citrus fruits, as well as red bell peppers, broccoli, papayas, and kiwi fruit. But zinc is another nutrient you should strive to get enough of. One study found that consuming zinc lessened the severity of a cold. Shellfish, eggs, and lean beef are all good sources of this mineral.
Studies have found that smoking compromises our immunity, particularly when it comes to our dental health. Smokers can’t fight off infections in their mouths as well as non-smokers can, and they require more healing time following dental surgery and certain dental procedures. People who smoke are also more likely to develop gum disease and need root canals. Exposure to second-hand smoke can hurt the immune system as well; it’s believed that cigarette smoke prevents T cells from properly signaling that there’s an infection present in the body.
The good news is this can be reversed once you quit smoking, and research has shown that former smokers experience better immunity and improved dental health the longer they stay away from cigarettes and nicotine products.
Getting the flu vaccine will reduce your odds of contracting influenza by about 60%, although this percentage fluctuates from season to season. While the flu shot won’t directly make your immune system stronger, it will at least make it more prepared in case you contract the virus, helping you fight it off faster. Think of the shot as introducing a much weaker version of the flu to your body to give your immune system a workout so that it can be ready for the real deal. (And it’s a myth that the flu shot actually gives you the flu.)
The “good” bacteria in our stomach may be responsible for helping to fight off certain infections. You can boost your good bacteria levels by taking a probiotic pill and eating fermented foods that naturally contain probiotics, such as kimchi and sauerkraut. Antibiotics tend to wipe out probiotic bacteria, so be sure to take them following a round of treatment to help restore balance in the digestive system.
Although this step won’t directly strengthen the immune system, you can avoid catching a virus by washing your hands regularly and using alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available. Don’t touch your face until you’ve had a chance to clean your hands—viruses enter the body through mucus membranes including your eyes, nose, and mouth.
You never know when a cold or flu virus is lurking in public areas. Taking the above steps to fortify your immune system will help lessen the chances of getting sick.
HealthSoul helps you find the right doctor and hospitals through reading reviews and ratings. We’re dedicated to helping you stay healthy so for more health and wellness tips, read our blog.