When was the last time you thanked your immune system? Every day, it works hard to protect the body from infection. This is even more important during “flu season” when germs are easy to catch, or if your co-worker or partner is sneezing up a storm. Without a healthy immune system, you’d be sick on the daily. But it can’t go into battle alone. Your everyday habits and activities can either help or harm your immune system! This network of cells, tissues, and organs is powered by your lifestyle, and it’s up to you to lend a hand.1
Every little move adds up. It might not seem groundbreaking at the moment, but everything certainly makes a difference. Your immune system is depending on you.
Do your immunity a favor by controlling these habits. In time, it’ll show thanks by keeping you healthy and well.
1. Letting Stress Build Up
Stress is a very normal part of life. In small doses, it fuels motivation and productivity, helping you tackle the day’s to-do list. The “fight or flight” response even increases immune cells like lymphocytes and neutrophils.2 The problem starts when things get out of hand.
Stress increases cortisol, aptly known as the stress hormone. At high levels, cortisol prevents the body from suppressing inflammation and fighting off sickness.3 Essentially, when you’re under pressure, so is your immunity.
2. Sleeping Less Than 7 Hours
Adults need 7 to 9 hours of shut eye every night, but almost 30 percent don’t get enough. The rise of technology definitely doesn’t help! Top it off with the demands of work and you’ve got yourself a sleepless night.
This means trouble for immunity. Aside from accidents and poor focus, lack of rest is strongly connected to sickness. Sleep allows immune cells to increase and re-distribute to the lymph nodes. It even helps the body form an immunological memory to remember the “bad guys”, proving the power of shut eye.4
3. Exercising Too Much
Let’s get one thing straight: Physical activity is great for the body. Exercise increases immune cells and fights inflammation so well that it can manage chronic diseases.5 6 Overall health will surely thrive, but it’s a different story when you overdo it.
Exercises strengthens immunity by temporarily heightening oxidative stress. But if you keep going and going and going, that oxidative stress will take over. Strenuous workouts will even suppress immune cells, leaving you vulnerable to infection and disease.7
4. Sitting Around All Day
On the flipside, lack of exercise isn’t any better. Some say it’s as bad as smoking! Physical activity not only increases helper T cells, but helps immunity respond and adapt.8 Exercise also increases proteins that regulate inflammation, a major process behind countless diseases.
5. Drinking Too Much Alcohol
If you drink, the occasional cocktail or beer doesn’t hurt. Some types of alcohol even have health benefits. Red wine, for example, has more antioxidants than green tea and ellagic acid, a chemical that slows down fat growth.11 12 But that doesn’t mean excess alcohol is good for you.
Too much booze makes it hard for immune cells to do their thing. In many cases, alcohol actually makes the body’s organs attack itself. And if you do get sick? Diseases are often more aggressive in those that drink a lot, so watch out.13
6. Smoking Cigarettes
From yellow teeth to lung cancer, the consequences of smoking aren’t pretty. You can also add poor immunity to that list. Nicotine, a major component of cigarettes, negatively acts on white blood cells called lymphocytes. Helper T cells also become unresponsive, letting germs and free radicals have their way.14
7. Eating Processed Foods
Are you all about boxed meals and frozen dinners? Processed food might be cheap and easy, but it has little to no nutrients. This can seriously hinder immune cells, which need vitamins and minerals to function. Food literally equals fuel.
For instance, vitamins A and C activate immune cells while fighting oxidative stress. Deficiency can increase the risk of sickness, so eat lots of fruits and veggies.17 Processed food, on the other hand, isn’t rich in nutrition. It’s true: You are what you eat.
How To Help Your Immune System
- Make time for self-care and stress relief. Find a hobby you love, whether it’s crafting or writing.
- Prioritize sleep, no matter how busy you are. You’ll feel so much better the next morning.
- Stay active. All it takes is 30 minutes 5 days a week to reap the benefits of exercise.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. That’s 2 drinks a day for men, and 1 drink a day for women.18
- If you smoke, quit. It’s easier said than done, but there are countless programs and experts that are available for help.
- Eat real food like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains.
|↑1||Immune System Research. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.|
|↑2||Dhabhar, Firdaus S., William B. Malarkey, Eric Neri, and Bruce S. McEwen. “Stress-induced redistribution of immune cells—From barracks to boulevards to battlefields: A tale of three hormones–Curt Richter Award Winner.” Psychoneuroendocrinology 37, no. 9 (2012): 1345-1368.|
|↑3||Cohen, Sheldon, Denise Janicki-Deverts, William J. Doyle, Gregory E. Miller, Ellen Frank, Bruce S. Rabin, and Ronald B. Turner. “Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, no. 16 (2012): 5995-5999.|
|↑4||Besedovsky, Luciana, Tanja Lange, and Jan Born. “Sleep and immune function.” Pflügers Archiv-European Journal of Physiology 463, no. 1 (2012): 121-137.|
|↑5, ↑10||Sharif, K., A. Watad, N. L. Bragazzi, M. Lichtbroun, H. Amital, and Y. Shoenfeld. “Physical activity and autoimmune diseases: Get moving and manage the disease.” Autoimmunity reviews (2017).|
|↑6||Schmidt, Thorsten, Marion van Mackelenbergh, Daniela Wesch, and Christoph Mundhenke. “Physical activity influences the immune system of breast cancer patients.” Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutics 13, no. 3 (2017): 392.|
|↑7||Fitzgerald, L. “Overtraining increases the susceptibility to infection.” International journal of sports medicine 12, no. S 1 (1991): S5-S8.|
|↑8||Nickel, Thomas, Henner Hanssen, Ingrid Emslander, Verena Drexel, Gernot Hertel, Arno Schmidt-Trucksäss, Claudia Summo et al. “Immunomodulatory effects of aerobic training in obesity.” Mediators of inflammation 2011 (2011).|
|↑9||Wu, Yili, Dongfeng Zhang, and Shan Kang. “Physical activity and risk of breast cancer: a meta-analysis of prospective studies.” Breast cancer research and treatment 137, no. 3 (2013): 869-882.|
|↑11||Okla, Meshail, Inhae Kang, Da Mi Kim, Vishnupriya Gourineni, Neil Shay, Liwei Gu, and Soonkyu Chung. “Ellagic acid modulates lipid accumulation in primary human adipocytes and human hepatoma Huh7 cells via discrete mechanisms.” The Journal of nutritional biochemistry 26, no. 1 (2015): 82-90.|
|↑12||Carlsen, Monica H., Bente L. Halvorsen, Kari Holte, Siv K. Bøhn, Steinar Dragland, Laura Sampson, Carol Willey et al. “The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide.” Nutrition journal 9, no. 1 (2010): 3.|
|↑13||Alcohol and the Immune System. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑14||Sopori, Mohan L., and Wieslaw Kozak. “Immunomodulatory effects of cigarette smoke.” Journal of neuroimmunology 83, no. 1 (1998): 148-156.|
|↑15||Compton, Michael T., Gail L. Daumit, and Benjamin G. Druss. “Cigarette smoking and overweight/obesity among individuals with serious mental illnesses: a preventive perspective.” Harvard review of psychiatry 14, no. 4 (2006): 212-222.|
|↑16||Parrott, Andy C. “Does cigarette smoking cause stress?.” American Psychologist 54, no. 10 (1999): 817.|
|↑17||Mora, J. Rodrigo, Makoto Iwata, and Ulrich H. Von Andrian. “Vitamin effects on the immune system: vitamins A and D take centre stage.” Nature Reviews Immunology 8, no. 9 (2008): 685-698.|
|↑18||Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.|