Are you secretly sabotaging your immune system? Some common lifestyle habits can have a detrimental effect on your ability to fight off infections like colds and flu – as well as your overall resistance to chronic illness.
If so, you need a lifestyle tune-up. Replacing bad health habits with good ones can improve your immune system health. Check the list of immune system boosters and busters to see where you’re doing well – and where you could use some improvement.
It’s almost an annual rite of passage: Winter comes and despite your best
efforts, you catch a cold. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s hard to slow down
for a mere case of the sniffles. Many of us try to work straight through our
colds and hope that, with minimal effort, the symptoms will get better quickly.
Although that may sometimes be the case, it can also happen that pesky cold
symptoms leave us feeling drained for what seems like an eternity.
Cold symptoms can vanish in as
1. Lack of exercise: Sitting at your desk all day can not only make you feel sluggish, it can leave your immune system sluggish, too. Studies show that regular, moderate exercise – like a daily 30 minute walk -- increases the level of leukocytes, an immune system cell that fights infection. When you’re a non-exerciser, your risk of infections -- such as colds -- increase compared to those who exercise.
Being inactive can weaken your immune system indirectly, too. A sedentary lifestyle can interfere with sleep quality at night and can lead to obesity and other problems that increase your risk of illness.
2. Being overweight: Carrying extra weight puts you at risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Part of the reason may lie in how excess fat cells in your body affect your immune system.
A high number of fat cells trigger the release of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body, leading to chronic inflammation. When the inflammation is ongoing, healthy tissues get damaged.
Animal studies also show that being overweight or obese can impair the immune system. For example, studies have shown that obese and overweight mice make fewer antibodies after receiving common vaccinations. Antibodies are a measured immune response to vaccination.
3. Eating foods high in sugar and fat: Consuming too much sugar suppresses immune system cells responsible for attacking bacteria. Even consuming just 75 to 100 grams of a sugar solution (about the same as in two 12-ounce sodas) reduces the ability of white blood cells to overpower and destroy bacteria. This effect is seen for at least a few hours after consuming a sugary drink.
4. Experiencing constant stress: Everyone has some stress in their lives. And short-term stress may actually boost the immune system – the body produces more cortisol to make ''fight or flight'' possible. But chronic stress has the opposite effect. It makes you more vulnerable to illness, from colds to serious diseases. Chronic stress exposes your body to a steady cascade of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which suppress the immune system.
5. Being socially isolated: Having strong relationships and a good social network is important to your physical health as well as your mental health – and specifically your immune system. Several studies support the idea that people who feel connected to friends – whether it’s a few close friends or a large group – have stronger immunity than those who feel alone. In one study, freshmen who were lonely had a weaker immune response to a flu vaccine than those who felt connected to others. Another recent study found that isolation changed the immune system on a cellular level: Being lonely affected the way some genes that controlled the immune system were expressed.