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How to Boost Your Immune System

10 steps to better winter health

The world is filled with nasty viruses, bacteria and microbes just waiting to do you in. Don’t let them sideline you during the busiest stretch of the holiday season. Instead, employ these 10 simple ways to mobilize your immune system’s illness-fighting forces.

1. Adult vaccines

Vaccines aren’t just for kids; adults need them, too, to protect against such diseases as hepatitis B, measles, mumps and rubella. Other than the annually recommended flu vaccine, many inoculations require only one or two doses over the course of a lifetime. For a complete list of important vaccines for adults, log on to CDC.gov/Features/AdultVaccines/.

2. Adequate sleep

Research suggests that sleep deprivation causes sluggish production of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that can obliterate certain microbes and cancer cells. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that catching a cold is more likely if you sleep fewer than seven hours a night. Aim for a solid eight. If that’s not possible, nap when you can and catch up on lost sleep on the weekends. (Momsomniacs, use these tips to reclaim your rest.)

3. Omega-3 fatty acids

A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce your body’s production of eicosanoids, hormone-like substances that are associated with autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, diverticulitis, multiple sclerosis and lupus. To up your diet’s omega-3 intake, the American Heart Association suggests eating a fatty fish like salmon at least twice a week.

4. Produce power

A healthy diet has the power to prevent heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, gastrointestinal disorders and some cancers. Yet only 25 percent of Americans consume the minimum recommended intake of vegetables, according to the US Department of Agriculture. As a general rule, half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables. Minimize nutrient loss by steaming or microwaving veggies until just tender-crisp.

5. Guard against weight gain

Research shows that obesity may alter your immune-system response. Therefore, avoiding the 20- to 30-pound gain that many adults pack on as they age is an important way to safeguard your well-being.

6. Exercise

Perform moderate workouts (walking or jogging) for at least 30 minutes five or more times a week to increase your body’s circulation of immune-boosting natural killer cells. Don’t overdo it: The stress of intense exercise (75 strenuous minutes or more) may stimulate stress hormones like cortisol, which some studies suggest can suppress natural killer cells.

7. Maintain good hygiene

Always cough or sneeze into your sleeve or elbow — and teach your kids to do the same. Be sure to wash your hands often; it’s one of the most effective ways to prevent microbes that cause colds, flu and foodborne illness from entering your body. If a sink isn’t available, hand sanitizer will do.

8. Take a breather

Evidence suggests that unmanaged stress sets off a chain of hormonal events that decreases the activity of natural killer cells, making you susceptible to colds and aggravating chronic conditions. Grant yourself at least 20 minutes of daily down time.

9. Get more zinc

If you feel a cold coming on, try a zinc-based cold remedy, such as Cold-Eeze, which works by sealing the receptors on cells so that cold viruses can’t enter and replicate.

10. Rely on friends

Can you name someone who’d help you in a pinch? Do you have a confidante? Studies show that people who have a diverse social network have greater resistance to colds. So get out and meet up with your friends.

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