I like to joke that I have the immune system of a goddess. Of course, by saying that, I’ve probably just invited a nasty case of the ugly urps and the Hershey squirts. Murphy’s Law and everything.
But before I get jinxed with the I-told-you-so stomach bug, allow me to deviate into the health world and share ways in which you can boost your immune system and keep those pesky winter pathogens at bay.
Much of it boils down to three things:
- A healthy diet
- A full night’s sleep
- Regular exercise
Of course, stress factors in as well, but that one’s trickier to control.
I know firsthand the value of perfecting this trio. While slogging through medical residency, I ate poorly and got little sleep. As for exercise, I did my best, but a 36-hour work shift made exercise as attractive as a hairless cat.
Not surprisingly, I was sick. All. The. Time.
Residents of today are likely healthier thanks to resident work-hour reform, but most of us—medical trainees or not—do not get enough of this triad.
1. A Healthy Diet
Many foods boost the immune system. Even without clicking the links below to learn which nutrients are best, it doesn’t take a Mensa scholar to know that:
Big plate of cheesy french fries = bad
Big bowl of colorful berries = good
Berries are especially immune-system friendly, because they harbor antioxidant superheroes. Antioxidants are nutrients that protect cells from free radicals, which are disease-causing and immune-bashing agents. Imagine free radicals as microscopic bandits who not only steal necessary molecules from our healthy cells, but also kill them and damage their DNA in the process. This plants the seeds for infection and disease.
But never fear. Antioxidants are here! Those sexy morsels stop the free radicals’ deadly rampage.
Now really, would you want to deprive your body of that? So think berries, lots of other brightly colored fruits and vegetables, dark chocolate (yay!), and green tea. In addition, fresh garlic and chicken noodle soup can boost your immunity. See? Grandma was right.
2. A Full Night’s Sleep
Neglect your sleep and you’ll reward your body with sneezing, coughing, and anal squirts. Although the manner in which insomnia weakens the immune system is not entirely clear, one thing that is clear is that optimally, we need to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night to decrease our risk of catching viruses and bacteria.
3. Regular Exercise
Moderate exercise is associated with stronger immune systems. Even a workout three times a week or a daily walk can lessen your chance of catching a virus. Theories behind this include:
- Increased numbers of white blood cells, which are the cells that help fight infection.
- Improved circulation, which more efficiently delivers disease-fighting cells.
- Improved well-being from those lovely endorphins. A happy camper is a healthier camper.
We all have excuses for everything we do or don’t do: I can’t date you because I’m allergic to bad breath. I can’t go to work because I have foot fungus. I don’t have enough time to write because I’m marketing (okay, that one’s mine).
But we should never make excuses that inhibit good health. We only have one body. Let’s treat it with respect.
What about you? How strong is your immune system?
*Note: I understand that many people have limitations on what they can achieve in the above areas. It is not my intent to minimize these restrictions. I speak only in generalities and truly wish well those whose life circumstances limit their abilities.
All images from Microsoft Clip Art