Posted October 10, 2022 by Edward Pankey, MD
Getting sick is a fact of life. But, developing healthy habits now may help you reduce your number of sick days this winter as cold and flu season looms ahead.
The body’s immune system is a complex network of cells and organ systems that work together to protect you and your family against infection and disease. It fights everything from cold and flu viruses, including COVID-19, to dangerous bacteria to cancer. A strong immune response is influenced by many factors, including a healthy lifestyle.
Summa Health offers 7 ways to boost your natural defenses against the smorgasbord of germs and viruses you encounter every day. What’s more, these healthy habits will not only help you maintain a strong, healthy immune response, but also help to prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases.
Eating a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables
Incorporating a healthy diet ensures your body is getting the vital antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, including A, C, E, B6, potassium and zinc, it needs to produce infection-fighting white blood cells.
A balanced diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Eating well also means limiting saturated fats found in high-fat meats and dairy, and cutting back on your salt and sugar intake.
When you’re active, your body naturally produces more white blood cells. Plus, while exercising, the cells circulate the body more rapidly and potentially detect germs faster. What’s more, physical activity boosts your overall health, helps you sleep better and reduces stress, which all help maintain a strong immune response.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week.
Maintaining a healthy weight
According to the CDC, obesity has been linked to reduced immune function and also may lower vaccine effectiveness. Adults should aim for a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 25 or lower.
The best way to manage weight loss is incorporating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
It’s important to follow the recommended vaccine schedule, including flu and COVID-19 shots. Vaccines train your immune system to recognize and create specific antibodies to fight off certain diseases and prevent serious illness. Plus, it’s safer for your immune system to learn from vaccines, rather than through infection from harmful germs.
Getting enough sleep
Studies show chronic lack of sleep can reduce your body’s white blood cells and affect your body’s fighting power, causing you to get sick more often. A good night’s rest also contributes to your overall health, better weight control and decreased stress.
Sleep requirements vary by age, but the average adult should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Chronic stress reduces your ability to ward off germs. When you’re stressed, your body produces higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which suppresses your immune response by decreasing white blood cell production.
Getting plenty of sleep and incorporating stress-relieving techniques, such as yoga, meditation, exercise and talk therapy, are key to keeping your stress in check.
Quit smoking and limit alcohol
Smoke from cigarettes contains more than 7,000 toxic chemicals that can harm white blood cells, making you more susceptible to infection. In addition, excessive alcohol use weakens the immune system. Call 1-800-Quit-Now for help to stop smoking.
Also, drink in moderation. Try to keep it to no more than two drinks or less on special occasions.
Your immune system is your body’s best defense against infection and disease. Taking care of yourself boosts your immunity so it can better take care of you. To
Consulting with your primary care physician can help steer you down the right path toward boosting your immune response. To make an appointment with a Summa Health primary care physician, visit summahealth.org/primarycare or call 888.656.5228.
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