Taking care of your body isn’t just about getting enough sleep and eating the right foods—though those are certainly important parts of staying healthy. It’s also about avoiding the habits that can weaken your immune system and prevent you from getting better when you’re ill. Avoiding these bad habits will help ensure that you stay healthy and energetic all year long.
Sugar attacks your immune system in two ways. First, a diet high in sugar causes inflammation, which weakens your body’s defense against illness. Secondly, it can actually suppress your immune system by slowing down white blood cell activity. White blood cells are responsible for attacking viruses and bacteria that enter your body; if they aren’t fighting infection properly due to a poor diet, you’re more likely to get sick. To preserve your immunity, eliminate processed sugars from your diet as much as possible. You’ll also want to cut back on alcohol and eat foods rich in Vitamin C (citrus fruits) and zinc (oysters). Studies show that these steps can have a positive effect on keeping colds at bay!
Cut Back on Alcohol
If you’re serious about strengthening your immune system, then cutting back on alcohol is one of your best bets. Alcoholic beverages can weaken your immune system by interfering with white blood cell production and increasing cortisol levels. Since white blood cells are responsible for protecting our bodies from infection, having too few means you have a higher risk of contracting all sorts of diseases—even minor ones like colds and flu. Plus, excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to poor sleep quality, which keeps cortisol levels elevated longer and inhibits restorative sleep cycles from occurring. Chronic stress depletes glutathione (an antioxidant that helps your body fight off illness) and can cause anxiety or depression symptoms as well; both conditions lower immunity by taking a toll on lymphatic function.
I’m sorry to be so blunt, but if you are overweight or obese, your immunity is likely compromised in some way. The reason: your body expends a lot of energy just trying to stay warm. In fact, obesity (particularly belly fat) causes a massive inflammatory response throughout your body—and not in a good way. By avoiding overeating, you can make it easier on your immune system and keep inflammation at bay. If you have trouble controlling portion sizes (we all do), try cutting back with smaller plates or bowls and then eating from them only until you’re full.
Get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Getting a good night’s rest can help your body produce infection-fighting antibodies. You may have heard that not getting enough sleep can cause you to gain weight, but did you know it can also mess with your immune system? A University of Chicago study found that mice who slept only four hours a day had a harder time fighting off respiratory infections than those who logged eight or more hours in bed. If you already feel exhausted during busy weeks, try to get more sleep at night by taking advantage of an extra hour before bed or moving exercise out of your nighttime routine. Other habits that could damage your immunity include
Keep the Air Clean
A clean, fresh environment is a must to keep your immunity at its peak. When you breathe in dust, mold and other allergens, your body begins to break down those particles into smaller ones that can get deep into your lungs and even bloodstream. You might not notice these tiny particles or their potential effects right away—but over time they will weaken your immune system, making it more difficult to fight off viruses and bacteria. Always make sure that you’re breathing in clean air—and if something isn’t smelling or looking right in your home or office, take action immediately! Call an electrician if necessary. There are few things as important as a clean environment!
Practice Good Hygiene
The common cold is caused by over 200 different viruses, according to WebMD. Preventative measures, like regular hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, can drastically reduce your chances of getting sick. Get plenty of sleep: Staying up late might not seem like a big deal—if you feel drowsy during the day, just take a nap! However, even one night of poor sleep quality can compromise immune function. What’s more, according to Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine , there’s substantial evidence that losing sleep makes it harder to fight off infection in general.
Inactivity is one of the most common lifestyle habits to blame for compromised immunity. When we’re sedentary, our bodies shift into conservation mode; metabolism slows down, and we become susceptible to illness. On days when you have time on your hands, take a brisk walk around your neighborhood or at least get up from your desk and stretch once an hour. The regular activity will help bolster your immunity so that illnesses can’t take hold as easily when they do pop up. And don’t worry if you think exercise always makes you sick—regular movement actually boosts your body’s defenses!
Stress can wreak havoc on your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness. Though everyone experiences stress differently, it typically falls into one of two categories: acute and chronic. Acute stress is just what it sounds like—it’s a spike in anxiety over a specific situation that affects your life in that moment. For example, you may feel stressed about finding a parking spot at your child’s school play when all the spots are full. These types of episodes can have lasting effects on your body if they occur regularly—especially if you live with ongoing or chronic stressors (which many people do). Chronic stress , on the other hand, is less intense but more sustained, which makes its impact even more detrimental over time.
Practice Good Dental Hygiene
Studies have shown that one of your body’s first lines of defense against infection is oral hygiene. If you don’t brush and floss regularly, you might be putting yourself at a greater risk for infections. Be sure to brush twice daily and floss after every meal or as often as possible. It may sound excessive, but maintaining good dental hygiene can help keep your body’s defenses strong.
Get Enough Vitamin D
Studies have shown that people with higher levels of vitamin D are less likely to get sick. But getting enough sunlight on your skin isn’t a realistic way to maintain your vitamin D supply, because skin cancer and sunburns increase risk. Moreover, sunscreen decreases your body’s ability to make vitamin D in your skin, which means you need at least 20 minutes of direct sunlight exposure each day to boost levels. You can also take a daily supplement. The government recommends 600 international units (IU) a day for adults age 70 and under; if you’re over 70 or an adult with darker skin, aim for 800 IU.
Know When to See a Doctor
Just because you don’t have a fever or feel sick doesn’t mean there isn’t something wrong. Some symptoms can be indicative of serious conditions, so it’s important to recognize them and get checked out. Rather than jumping online and self-diagnosing, though, schedule an appointment with your doctor to make sure everything is okay. Even if you aren’t feeling any symptoms, see your doctor on a semi-regular basis; an annual physical can help keep tabs on conditions like high blood pressure that might not be immediately noticeable but can do damage over time.