Tis the season of hacking coughs and dripping noses.
We’ve all been there. Avoiding a co-worker whose cough is loud, junky and so bad you worry just the sound will infect you! Or, how about that sweet child whose nose is like a faucet? Don’t forget the well-meaning (obviously sick) churchgoer who is coming to shake your hand!
Infectious invaders are increasing, spreading and threatening to turn your well-intentioned day into a mess. There are ways to boost your immune system so it is strong enough to battle the bad coughs and crusty noses of your friends and family.
Immune system definition
Your immune system is your body’s defense against infection and illness. It recognizes when cells enter your body that do not belong there, such as bacteria and viruses, and will fight against them to keep you from getting sick. While your immune system can be seemingly invincible, there are certain aspects of life that can make it harder to do its job.
How do you boost your immune system? There are several ways that you are able to keep your defenses in tip-top shape. Following a healthy lifestyle will certainly be a good start. Making sure you have a healthy, well-balanced diet, and getting enough exercise and sleep and managing stress, are all ways to support your immune system and keep it running smoothly year-round.
1. Diet — Many foods have different vitamins and minerals in them that are beneficial to your body’s defense system. Eating a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, and meat will help maintain proper function.
2. Exercise — Exercise promotes efficient blood circulation, which keeps the cells of the immune system moving so that they can effectively do their job. Just 20 minutes of exercise can have an anti-inflammatory response in the body.
Physical activity helps flush out toxins and bacteria in your lungs and airways. Which may reduce your chance of getting the flu or common cold. Lucky for us, moderate activity a few times a week can do the trick.
3. Manage stress — Stress overload causes your body to produce more of the hormone cortisol. In short spurts, such as during intense exercise, cortisol can produce an anti-inflammatory response, but chronic stress can cause your body to get used to the cortisol, making it prone to inflammation. Managing your stress with things like meditation or yoga can help reduce your cortisol levels, thus improving your immune system.
4. Get enough sleep (turn off your phone) — Lack of sleep no doubt impacts your immune system. Sleep helps your body recover, as well, so if you aren’t getting enough of it, your body will suffer. During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines. Certain cytokines are used to fight infection and inflammation, but lack of sleep can decrease the production of these proteins, making it harder to fight off illness. Sleep is also important to your circadian rhythm, which is a major factor in your immune health.
So, silence your phone, pull the curtains and create an environment that fosters sleep.
5. Stay hydrated and avoid excessive alcohol -— Water is essential for our body to function properly. The recommended amount of water is eight glasses per day. Water helps maintain moisture, especially in the mucous membranes and nasal passages, where viruses often enter our bodies. Water helps oxygenate the blood in our bodies, which pumps up our cells and helps them function properly. This helps our muscles and organs work efficiently. Water also helps flush out toxins, through the kidneys.
Along with more water intake, alcohol consumption should be lessened. Alcohol can disrupt the circadian rhythm, causing a loss of sleep, which can impact our overall health. It can also suppress the activity of white blood cells whose key function is to do battle on the front lines with germs and other illness-causing factors.
6. Take preventative steps -— While you should definitely incorporate all of the above aspects into consideration when trying to support your immune system, there are definitely smaller things you can do to prevent unwanted illnesses or infections. Make sure your house is clean and sanitized. Wiping down surfaces with disinfectant wipes can inhibit bacteria and viruses from getting on countertops where you place food or utensils that end up in your mouth. Also, be sure to wash your hands frequently during cold and flu season, as well as year-round. During the flu season, a flu shot is definitely recommended.
Dr. Carolyn McClain is medical director of The Urgency Room.