Your immune system hums with activity. Cells, tissues, and organs work together all through your body to coordinate attacks against invading pathogens. You can help to keep this system running smoothly and efficiently when responding to threats.
Give your immune system some quiet time to do its work. Ever wonder why doctors always advise rest, rest, and more rest when you're ailing? It's because immunity and sleep are intricately linked. When you don't get enough sleep, you become more vulnerable to illnesses like the common cold. And once you become sick and your immune response kicks into gear, you will tend to doze off as your body seeks the restorative benefits of sleep.
Some experts even believe that sleep evolved mainly as a way for the body to defend against illness and infection. Backing up this theory is the research showing that animals that sleep the longest also tend to have the highest count of white blood cells – and are less likely to fall prey to parasitic infections.
Give your immune system a workout. Doesn't exercise seem to be the prescription for just about every health problem these days? Your immune system certainly benefits from physical activity, though the reasons remain a bit uncertain. Could all the huff-and-puff and sweating of activity flush illness-causing bacteria from your body via skin and airways? Also, your body temperature spikes when you workout, which, like a fever, could help fight infection, too.
Research has managed to show that moderate exercise can help to prevent colds in postmenopausal women. But you can't just go for a quick jog anytime you feel a scratchy throat; you need to do consistent workouts, since immunity improves gradually over time. Taking brisk 30-minute walks regularly could be enough effort to see results. Don't go overboard, though: really heavy-duty exercise actually weakens the immune system.
Indulge your immune system with relaxation. A positive attitude and a proactive approach to dealing with stress can protect you more than you might think! People with chronic high stress levels are more vulnerable to infection. Chronic stress wears you down – in mind and in body. When you allow anxieties to accumulate, you constantly flood your body with stress hormones that undermine your immune system's efforts to protect you from illness.
Find ways to deal with negative emotions like anger and frustration, so your body can stay focused on combating contagions. Relaxation, massage, meditation, tai chi, prayer or other religious practices, laughter, spending time with friends – all of these pleasurable, proactive, stress-relieving remedies support your immune system's efforts.
Help out with good hygiene habits. Your body has lots of ways to keep out offending bacteria and viruses. Take your nose, for instance. The hairs lining the insides of your nostrils act as barriers to airborne invaders you might inhale. You can help your nose do its job by using a neti pot or spray bottle to flush out trapped bacteria. Make sure to use distilled or sterile water.
And then there's your skin. When germs get on your skin (e.g., by touching a contaminated doorknob), they can end up in your eyes, nose, and mouth and make you sick. That's where good hand-washing hygiene comes in. Also refrain from touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Your skin is one of your body's biggest immune defences of all – it acts as a physical barrier against germs. Cuts and scrapes may allow germs into the body, so be diligent about covering wounds.
You should protect other people's immune systems, too. Remember: A sneeze can travel through the air at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. A cough may be a bit slower, but either way, you need to shield your mouth with a tissue or the inside of your elbow.
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