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5 Ways To Boost Your Immune System
By Anita Udayamurthy, MD
When temperatures drop, the risk of catching a cold or other virus seems to increase. Contrary to what some people believe, spending time outside in cooler weather isn’t what makes us more susceptible to illness. More likely, it’s due to spending more time indoors with less air circulation and in close proximity to others. The lower humidity that comes with winter weather also tends to keep viruses in the air longer.
To help stave off illness during the winter months – or any time of year – you can take steps to strengthen your immune system. While this won’t guarantee you’ll avoid catching a virus, it can make it less likely and can help you recover from illness more quickly.
Catch More ZZZs
Just as sleep can help you recover from illness, it can also help you avoid illness to begin with. Studies have shown that people who don’t get enough quality sleep are more likely to get sick after exposure to a virus. Being deprived of sleep can decrease the production of immunity-boosting cytokines and infection-fighting antibodies.
One study of 164 healthy adults showed that those who slept fewer than six hours a night were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept more than six hours. In general, adults should get seven to eight hours of sleep per night to keep their immune systems working properly.
Fight It Off with Food
- While a healthy, balanced diet can help fight off infection, certain foods may actually contribute to a stronger immune system.
- Blueberries contain a flavonoid called anthocyanin, which has antioxidant properties.
- Dark chocolate contains an antibiotic called theobromine, which helps protect the body’s cells from free radicals.
- Turmeric contains curcumin, which as been found to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Broccoli is a great source of vitamin C and contains antioxidants.
- Spinach contains flavonoids, carotenoids, vitamin C, and vitamin E, which all support the immune system.
- Oranges and kiwi are an excellent source of vitamin C.
Long-term stress can lead to inflammation and imbalances in immune cell function. Reducing stress is easier said than done, but if you can find ways to relax more and stress less, it can help you fight off illness. Deep breathing exercises, yoga, regular massages, meditation, and exercise are all effective ways to reduce stress.
Exercise isn’t just beneficial for decreasing stress and losing weight. It can also help your body fight off infection. Participating in regular physical activity can help immune cells become more efficient at detecting and reacting to infection.
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, which amounts to approximately 20 minutes per day. Moderate-intensity exercise is any activity that raises your heart rate and causes you to break a sweat.