for a walk:
Sitting around not
only can leave you feeling sluggish, it also can make your
immune system sluggish. Exercise, on the other hand, helps boost
"We know exercise
is good for immune function," says Polsky.
The good news, he
says, is that you don't need elaborate exercise programs and
walking - getting your heart rate up for 20 minutes three
times a week - is associated with increased immune
function," Polsky tells WebMD.
sure exactly how exercise helps strengthen the immune system.
Studies show that
people who exercise have better-functioning white blood cells
(the ones that help fight off infection) than people who don't
Also, exercise is associated with the release of endorphins.
natural hormones that affect the brain in positive ways,"
They ease pain and
promote a sense of relaxation and well-being - all of which can
help you de-stress and sleep better, which in turn improve
a healthy diet:
Proper nutrition is
essential for your immune system to work well.
A diet high in empty
calories not only leads to weight gain, but it can leave you
more prone to infections. Plus, being overweight is associated
with a number of health problems that can also drag your immune
"When the immune
system is down, you want to avoid things like alcohol and
sugar, especially because microbes love sugar,"
says Stephen Sinatra, MD, a certified nutrition specialist
and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the
University of Connecticut School of Medicine.
A diet rich in
antioxidant vitamins, on the other hand, can boost resistance to
Think about eating in
Dark green, red,
yellow, and orange fruits and veggies are packed with
citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, red grapes, kale, onions,
spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots.
fresh garlic, which may have
antiviral and antibiotic properties, and old-fashioned
Studies show that, if
you do come down with a cold or the flu, a bowl of steaming
chicken soup can ease inflammation and help you get well faster.
mushrooms such as reichi,
maitake, and shiitake may have a strong influence
on immune function as well as enhance the production of
chemicals that help your body respond to infection.
Regular bouts with
insomnia may not only leave you feeling fatigued during the day,
but also leave you vulnerable to illnesses, including colds,
flu, and other infections.
Long term, poor sleep
also has been shown to increase the risk of other health
problems, including obesity and diabetes.
The body uses sleep as a means of healing itself, says Scott
Berliner, president and supervising pharmacist at Life
Science Pharmacy in New York.
When we don't get
enough sleep - or reach the deeper stages of sleep - healing is
It's hard to measure exactly sleep's protective effect on the
immune system, and researchers don't know precisely how sleep
improves immunity. Like antioxidants, sleep may help reduce
oxidative stress, which then stops cells from being weakened and
"clearly, sleep -
at least seven hours a night - is associated with
increased resistance to infectious diseases," says Polsky.
Practice stress management:
When your body is
under constant stress, you're more vulnerable to everything from
the common cold to major diseases.
"Stress from time
to time is not necessarily a bad thing. But to not have
relief from the stress - to be under constant stress - is
deleterious to health," says Polsky.
That's because a
steady cascade of stress hormones, such as cortisol and
adrenaline, weaken the immune system.
Chronic stress is linked to heart disease and hypertension, and
it can also have an effect on white blood cell function, Polsky
"When I speak to
people about lifestyle changes, I look at what they can do
to manage their stress, whether it be meditating - maybe
exercise is their form of meditation - whether it be
spirituality of a religious nature. It really doesn't
matter," says Berliner.
Don't abuse alcohol or use recreational drugs:
Drinking a moderate
amount of alcohol appears to have some health benefits, such as
lowering your risk of heart disease.
No more than two
drinks a day for a man, or one drink for a woman. But drinking
too much alcohol can inhibit the function of white blood cells
and lower your resistance to infection, says Polsky.
marijuana, has the same effect
on white blood cells, weakening your immune system.
Research shows that
people with close friendships and strong support systems tend to
be healthier than those who lack such supports.
sexual relationship may provide
even more immune system benefits.
A study of college
students found those who had sex once or twice a week had higher
levels of an immune system protein called immunoglobulin A
than those who had less sex.
Sex may also help
immunity by reducing stress and improving sleep.
"I tell people to
get good love in their lives - good support, good
friendships, however they need to get that love," says
along with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep,
are part of a holistic approach to boosting the immune system
and protecting yourself from disease.
"And to treat any
problem holistically, there is no one-pill approach,"