Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood on June 07, 2012


Christine Gustafson, MD, Alpharetta Integrative Medicine, Alpharetta GA. National Institutes of Health. Charles Raison, MD, Asst. Prof. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine. James Rippe, MD, Rippe Lifestyle Institute. Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD, Asst. Prof. Emory University School of Medicine.

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Video Transcript

Trainer: Good. Up. All you.

Narrator: Hard work. Persistence. A constant struggle. No, we don't mean toning up your physic, we're talking about how your body tones up to fight infection. Your immune system gets a daily workout attacking foreign invaders with specialized white blood cells like T-cells and B-cells. Some days the fight is intense. During cold and flu season there are literally millions of viruses to keep your immune system working overtime.

Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD, Internist, Emory School of Medicine: Plus the viruses are very smart, they mutate and change all the time. So it's almost impossible to build up immunity to every single one of them that's out there.

Narrator: There are ways to pump up your defenses and fight off sickness. One of the best ways to charge up your immune system may be to work out.

Jame Rippe, MD, Lifestyle Medicine: If there were a magic bullet in medicine, it would be physical activity.

Charles Raison, MD, Psychiatrist, Emory University: What it seems to do is it seems to train the stress system to more optimally respond to stressors and then to go into a more quiescent mode when you're not under stress.

Narrator: Exercise works on many different levels both mentally and physically. But its effectiveness at helping your body better cope with stress is perhaps the most impressive thing it does for the immune system.

Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD, Internist, Emory School of Medicine: Why? We sleep better when we exercise. If we sleep better our immune systems are better.

Narrator: And getting a good night's sleep is one of the key points in keeping our immune system working properly. Another pillar to shore up is your diet: Eating appropriate portions of a well-balanced diet, one high in nutrients and low in saturated and trans fats, can help keep you energized, fit and trim. Critical not only for your immune system but also for your overall health:

Jame Rippe, MD, Lifestyle Medicine: Some days you may eat more, some days you may eat less but there's never a time when you are not always conscious that you need to pay some attention to your nutrition.

Narrator: Food and drink rich in vitamins and antioxidants are crucial to keep you from going down for the count when you do happen to catch a virus. Less studied are the effects of certain other natural supplements. There's some evidence that things like zinc and Echinacea might be useful in strengthening the immune system in some cases.

Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD, Internist, Emory School of Medicine: It's been hard to really clearly document that there's a significant improvement and that it works for everybody—there's a lot of anecdotal reports. If it works for you, then fine. Everything in moderation.

Narrator: But there is strong evidence being mentally at peace can affect the cells of the immune in a positive way. Studies show that avoiding unnecessary interpersonal conflicts, doing those things that bring you joy and staying connected with friends and loved ones can actually make your immune system more robust. For WebMD, I'm Damon Meharg.