Some stress can be a good thing. It's your body's way of preparing for a challenge, such as giving a presentation. But a steady stream of stress can be bad for your health. Studies show it can even weaken your immune system -- your body's system for fighting off disease and illness. Reduce your stress by avoiding whatever stressors you can. Take the time to relax and do things you enjoy.
Enjoy Regular Sex
It turns out that sex doesn't just make you feel good -- it's good for you, too. Studies have shown that a good sex life can be a boost to health. One study looked at the connection between sexual activity and health in people middle-aged and older. The researchers found that those who had frequent sex were in better overall health than those who had sex less often.
Get a Pet
There's a reason dogs are called "man's best friend." Dogs and other pets can offer us companionship, exercise, and even good health. Studies have found that having a pet can help reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and improve heart health. One study showed that having a dog can help improve immune system development and may reduce the risks of allergies in children.
Build a Strong Social Network
We all know friends are important, but strong social ties can also have a big effect on your health. A recent study found that people with strong relationships were 50% more likely to survive than those with poor social ties. To broaden your social network, try volunteering, taking a class, or joining a group that interests you. And be sure to nurture the bonds you already have.
Keep a Positive Attitude
Positive thoughts can give your immune system a healthy boost. One study of law students found that when they were feeling more optimistic, their immune system was stronger. To increase your optimism, take time to savor the things you enjoy, look for the silver lining in difficult situations, and try not to dwell on negative thoughts.
Have a Laugh
A good belly laugh might be good for you. While there's some evidence that laughter may help boost our immune system, overall research results have been mixed. A group of researchers who looked at several studies about laughter and immune function found that people who laughed out loud at funny videos had higher immune function after watching the video. But more studies are needed to prove whether laughter actually helps prevent or minimize illness.
Eat Your Antioxidants
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can help you get a healthy dose of antioxidants. These substances in foods help protect your cells from free radicals, molecules that can damage cells. To get a wide range of antioxidants, choose fruits and vegetables of different colors, such as oranges, green peppers, broccoli, kiwi, strawberries, carrots, watermelon, papaya, leafy greens, and cantaloupe.
Take Your Vitamins
If you have a feeling your diet is lacking, consider taking a multivitamin. A daily multivitamin will help ensure that your body is getting all of the building blocks for a healthy immune system. Some nutrients that may be especially important for immune system health include selenium, vitamins A, C, D, and E, zinc, and magnesium.
Avoid Empty Calories
Processed foods such as fast foods, snack foods, candy, and soda don't provide much in the way of vitamins, fiber, or other nutrients. And they often contain other additives and chemicals that may not be good for your body. When you choose these foods over more nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, you risk depleting your body of essential nutrients.
Consider Herbs and Supplements
Many people take herbs or supplements to improve their overall health. Some supplements have been shown to affect the immune system. But more well-designed studies are needed to learn their beneficial effects on humans. These include garlic, ginseng, milk thistle, astragalus, and probiotics such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Talk with your doctor if you have questions about which supplements may be good for you.
Keep Your Body Moving
One simple way to strengthen your immune system is by exercising. Getting regular exercise can also reduce stress and help lower your risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. You get the most benefit when you exercise at a moderate level a few times a week. Any type of movement is helpful, including bicycling, walking, yoga, swimming, or playing golf.
Get a Good Night's Sleep
Without enough sleep, your immune system may not have the resources it needs to fight off illness. Most adults need about seven to nine hours of sleep each night. You can help yourself to a more restful sleep by keeping a regular schedule, getting exercise, avoiding caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime, relaxing before bedtime, and keeping your bedroom at a comfortable temperature.
Drinking alcohol is part of our culture. Many people drink at meals and at parties as a way to socialize and celebrate. But drinking too much alcohol can weaken your immune system and cause you to get sick more often. To minimize risk, men should have no more than two drinks per day. Women should not have more than one drink per day.
Kick the Nicotine Habit
Here's another reason to give up smoking -- it weakens your immune system. Even if you're just an occasional smoker, you're still at risk. According to the U.S. surgeon general, even low levels of exposure to tobacco can cause health problems, including heart attack, stroke, and asthma. If you need help quitting, talk with your doctor.
Wash Your Hands
One of the easiest ways to help your immune system fight illness is to wash your hands regularly. It's also one of the best ways to keep yourself and others healthy. Be sure to use soap and clean, running water, and wash for at least 20 seconds. If you don't have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.