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How to Use Your Immune System to Stay Healthy

Building Healthy Immunity continued...

Go for a walk: Sitting around not only can leave you feeling sluggish, it also can make your immune system sluggish. Exercise, on the other hand, helps boost immunity.

“We know exercise is good for immune function,” says Polsky. The good news, he says, is that you don’t need elaborate exercise programs and personal trainers. “Even fast walking – getting your heart rate up for 20 minutes three times a week -- is associated with increased immune function,” Polsky tells WebMD.

Researchers aren’t sure exactly how exercise helps strengthen the immune system. Studies show that people who exercise have better-functioning white blood cells (the ones that help fight off infection) than people who don’t exercise.

Also, exercise is associated with the release of endorphins. “These are natural hormones that affect the brain in positive ways,” Polsky says. They ease pain and promote a sense of relaxation and well-being – all of which can help you de-stress and sleep better, which in turn improve immunity.

Eat a healthy diet: Proper nutrition is essential for your immune system to work well. A diet high in empty calories not only leads to weight gain, but it can leave you more prone to infections. Plus, being overweight is associated with a number of health problems that can also drag your immune system down.

“When the immune system is down, you want to avoid things like alcohol and sugar, especially because microbes love sugar,” says Stephen Sinatra, MD, a certified nutrition specialist and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

A diet rich in antioxidant vitamins, on the other hand, can boost resistance to infection. Think about eating in color: dark green, red, yellow, and orange fruits and veggies are packed with antioxidants. Try berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, red grapes, kale, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

Other immune-boosting foods include fresh garlic, which may have antiviral and antibiotic properties, and old-fashioned chicken soup. Studies show that, if you do come down with a cold or the flu, a bowl of steaming chicken soup can ease inflammation and help you get well faster.

And mushrooms such as reichi, maitake, and shiitake may have a strong influence on immune function as well as enhance the production of chemicals that help your body respond to infection.

Get enough sleep: Regular bouts with insomnia may not only leave you feeling fatigued during the day, but also leave you vulnerable to illnesses, including colds, flu, and other infections. Long term, poor sleep also has been shown to increase the risk of other health problems, including obesity and diabetes.

The body uses sleep as a means of healing itself, says Scott Berliner, president and supervising pharmacist at Life Science Pharmacy in New York. When we don’t get enough sleep – or reach the deeper stages of sleep – healing is impaired.

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