November 7, 2023
5 ways to give the ER the cold shoulder this winter
- Family Medicine
- Urgent Care
November 17, 2017 | Family Medicine
A number of factors affect the body’s immune system, and one of these is your lifestyle. Your habits can impact how well the immune system stops germs, viruses and chronic illnesses from affecting your body. Changing bad habits to good ones can have significant benefits to immune system function and overall health.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Studies have shown that well-rested people who receive a flu vaccine develop a stronger protection against the flu than people who don’t. Not getting enough sleep can lead to higher levels of stress hormone, and it can cause more inflammation in the body. Researchers are not entirely sure how sleep directly benefits the immune system, but it’s clear that getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night (for adults) is beneficial to your overall health.
2. Reduce Your Sugar Intake
Too much sugar in the diet decreases the number of cells in the immune system that attack bacteria, an effect that can last for hours after a few sugary drinks. Instead, try to eat more fruits and vegetables—these are rich in positive nutrients like vitamins C and E, plus beta-carotene and zinc. Look for brightly-colored fruits and veggies like berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, red grapes, kale, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes and carrots.
In addition to fruits and veggies, look for foods like fresh garlic and chicken soup—these can help fight viruses and bacteria. Some mushroom varieties, including shiitake, can help the immune system as well.
Regular, moderate exercise can help the immune system fight infection—even simple exercise like a 30-minute daily walk. A lack of regular exercise will make you more likely to get a cold, while maintaining physical activity can boost the body’s feel-good chemicals and help improve your sleep quality. Both these factors can improve immune function.
Stress is part of life, but chronic and significant stress can expose the body to hormones that suppress the immune system and make you more vulnerable to illness. A few tactics for lowering stress include:
Lowering stress can help reduce amounts of stress hormone and improve sleep quality. Some studies have shown that people who meditate regularly may have healthier immune system responses.
Laughing as often as possible is good for you. Laughing lowers levels of stress hormones while boosting white blood cells to fight infection. Even anticipating a funny event can have an effect—in one study, men were told they were going to watch a funny video in three days’ time, but their stress hormone levels dropped simply upon being told the news.
Strong relationships and social networks can be directly beneficial to health and the immune system. People who feel connected to friends have a stronger immunity than those who feel alone, according to studies.
Washing the hands is something many people don’t do very well, but it can be a great way of reducing infection and helping the immune system. When it isn’t possible to wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer.
In some cases, bacteria in the gut can affect the immune system’s ability to fight infection. Eating foods with active cultures, or even looking to a probiotic supplement, can protect against certain inflammatory conditions like these.
My profession allows me to interact with people on a level that few other jobs would. The number one way to provide safe, effective healthcare is to educate patients and make sure I listen to and understand their story and what they want to get out of their healthcare.
“6 Immune System Busters & Boosters.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/10-immune-system-busters-boosters#1
“7 Ways to Boost Your Immune System Naturally, According to an Immunologist.” Health.com. http://www.health.com/cold-flu-sinus/boost-immune-system#naturally-boost-immune-system-intro-farmers-market
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.