Who Wants A Wimpy Immune System? Not I, Said Your Body

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.

Oy vey, will I make it to the potty on time?

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:

  1. A healthy diet
  2. A full night’s sleep
  3. 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.

Hip hip hurrah! The town of Cell Health is saved.

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.

Nightie night.

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?

muscle armed cartoon

*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

Related Articles:

10 Immune System Busters & Boosters

Antioxidants and Your Immune System: Super Foods for Optimal Health

7 easy ways to boost your immune system

193 Responses to “Who Wants A Wimpy Immune System? Not I, Said Your Body”

  1. BuddhaKat

    Common sense should tell us all that, but we may be at a disadvantage in the area of common sense in the US. I have always wondered how/why the residents in charge of my hospital stay have 80 hour work weeks and such! Sure seems being a resident is contra-indicated for a healthy immune system!!!

    🙂

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      And believe it or not, 80 hours is now a GOOD thing. When I trained, I easily crossed the 100 hour mark when I had to do every other night call. Not fun.

      Do you work in a hospital?

      Like

      • BuddhaKat

        No, though I have a respiratory therapist sister who does.
        I, on the other hand have undergone at least 5 abdominal surgeries and a couple other stays too. Especially when I’ve visited an emergency room, I quietly hope whoever will be seeing me isn’t currently catching a few zzzz’s in the middle of a 3 or 4 day shift!!

        🙂

        Like

        • Carrie Rubin

          5 abdominal surgeries? Yikes! And don’t worry–the days of 3-4 day shifts are long gone. Some residents don’t even do overnight call anymore. It’s more like shift work. 🙂

          Like

  2. Stacie Chadwick

    Just wanted to comment about how to the point and well-said your latest post was, Carrie, but I couldn’t because comments were closed.
    So I’m saying it here.
    =/

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks, Stacie. I didn’t want to start any debates in my comment section when the event was so raw, so I closed out the comments. Plus, I didn’t want people to feel obligated to leave one. I just wanted to make my point that sensible discussion is needed no matter what side of the fence one is on. And not only about guns but about mental health issues, society issues that breeds situations like that, etc. Thanks for coming by.

      Like

  3. 4amWriter

    After a bout with pneumonia last year, my doctor told me to take cod liver oil (not the capsule) and Vitamin D daily. Since that change I haven’t had as many colds/sore throats/illnesses. I definitely need to work on getting more sleep. 😉

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Vitamin D definitely helps boost the immune system as does Vitamin E. Now you just have to work on the sleep, cause that’s so easy, right? Not!

      Like

  4. Red

    When your post went live, I was in the hospital septic. Does that answer your question? *sheepish grin*

    Like

  5. Ashley Austrew

    Thanks, Carrie! This was great! I definitely could do better in some of the areas. I’ve noticed my immune system has gotten a lot weaker since I had a baby and stopped devoting as much time to taking care of myself.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      That can definitely happen. And then they become toddlers and bring home lots of fun viruses for Mommy. 🙂 I hope you stay well, especially through this holiday season. Thanks for popping by!

      Like

  6. butimbeautiful

    It depends. My immune system is as strong as my willpower to eat brightly coloured vegetables and sleep a lot. One funny thing I’ve noticed is that I feel most healthy, positively glowing, just when I’m about to get something awful.

    Like

  7. Vanessa Chapman

    Oh goodness, I’ve taken a few days to get to this post, and I usually like to read the comments first, but not when there’s 166 of them! I always seem to have a good immune system, usually when there are bugs going around the office, I seem to avoid catching them. My diet is pretty good, but could be better, I barely exercise and I don’t get enough sleep! Clearly if I tackle those things I will have superhero powers!

    Do you ever write articles for magazines? If not, you should, you have a great style that is easy to read, informative but non-preachy.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. I haven’t written for magazines. I probably should try; it would be great for exposure. But so little time, you know? Oops. Guess that’s another excuse on my part.

      As for your strong immune system despite your shirking on sleep and exercise? It must be that uvula of yours. It’s the only explanation. 😉

      Like

  8. idiotprufs

    It’s been a long time since I was sick, and I haven’t had the flu since I was a kid. I must be doing something right.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sounds like you’re giving your body the respect it deserves. Or maybe you’re just a freak of nature? 😉

      Like

  9. Posky

    I definitely need to exercise more.

    My diet is fair and my night’s sleep usually averages just enough but I don’t do much more than go for the occasional long walk. Should I try to balance the three or max out my sleep and eating into the realm of perfection and just forgo the exercise?

    Also I’m going to spend all weekend eating dark chocolate and drinking red wine. Take that, free radicals.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Well, if you can max out your sleep and eating “into the realm of perfection” then I encourage you to write a book. I’m sure there are many who’d like to know how you did it. 😉

      But I wouldn’t recommend forgoing the exercise. It’s every bit as important. Of course, you can still have your dark chocolate and red wine when you’re through. See? That sweating and pulsing will be worth it in the end. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

      Like

  10. Arizona girl

    Anything that gets you off the couch or away from your desk is good – sitting is bad in so many ways! Happy, healthy holidays!!

    Like

  11. Love and Lunchmeat

    I am honestly fatter since I started writing again. (In a year and a half I’ve gone up a jean size.) That said, I think as long as the trend doesn’t continue I’m probably okay. I’ve noticed my nails are much stronger. And the sleep, can anyone ever really get enough of such a good thing?

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Isn’t it funny how when we’re younger and have to take naps, we don’t want to, but when we’re older and would love to take naps, we can’t? Such a conundrum. 🙂

      And I hear you about the writing and the risks to the waistline. That’s why I love my treadmill shelf. I can write while walking at a very slow pace. Keeps me from sitting on my fanny all day.

      Like

  12. gdkonstantine

    A very useful post! I’ve already started to tell people about it — especially since I eat well, sleep well and exercise regularly.

    Like

  13. kateshrewsday

    I believe in willpower 😀 I tend to keep going as long as my mind says I have to, and cave in the moment I get to the holidays.
    Green veg help, though.

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      That is so true. Many times I worked myself to the bone, and by the time I got to my vacation, I was sick! Guess the body just says, “Enough.”

      Thanks, Kate. 🙂

      Like

  14. Diane Henders

    I do all the healthy things: fruits and veggies and whole grains and green tea; sleep and exercise and low stress. My immune system kicks ass… I think…

    But it’s hard to tell when my only actual human contact (other than my husband) is Friday pub night with the gang.

    Barley sandwiches are healthy, right? 🙂

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Well, if they’re not, the socialization you’re doing while you eat them is. 🙂

      I bet you are a doctor’s dream patient. He or she probably breathes a sigh of relief when you walk in. It’s so nice to see people take such good care of themselves. And I know Ayden is pretty fit, too. 🙂

      Like

      • Diane Henders

        Ah, “socialization”. It sounds so much more mature and responsible than “sucking back beer”. Thanks for that. Gonna go out and do a little socialization now. 🙂

        Actually, I received a severe admonition from my dentist a few months ago. She advised me that I needed to eat a LOT more sticky candy – she hasn’t made any money off me since I started visiting her in 1986. (But she has a great sense of humour.)

        Like

        • Carrie Rubin

          Ah, yes, dentists love sticky food stuff. Well, they pretend to hate it, but as you point out, where would they be without it?…

          Like

  15. Curmudgeon-at-Large

    Free radicals, anal squirts and foot fungus. I see that you have been keeping tabs on me.

    Actually, I feel much better ever since I hired someone to exercise for me.

    Like

  16. runningonsober

    I actually broke down and got my flu shot at CVS a couple days ago. We’ve already had outbreaks here in West Texas and the kids are getting hit particularly hard they say.

    As long as I eat right, get enough sleep, keep my stress levels low and don’t leave the house, my immune system seems to work just fine. 🙂

    Like

    • Carrie Rubin

      Good for you for getting your flu shot. I’ve read that it’s starting early and hitting harder than last year. Here’s to staying healthy!

      Like

  17. Sheila

    I’m horrible with this sort of thing. If a plate of cheesy fries and berries were in front of me, I’d probably eat many more fries. I know I should be eating the berries, but those fries are much more tempting. On most days, I’ll bring a banana to work to at least eat something healthy. Ever once in a while I’ll eat one but there have been many more days when that banana just ends up rotting in my bag. Hopefully by reading your blog and book, I’ll force myself to do better. I just watched Contagion last night. I have no idea why, but I love stories like that.

    Like

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