Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Boost your immune system with these tried and true tips

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Here we are in the midst of the cold and flu season, so this week will feature the many ways you can enhance your natural disease fighting mechanisms.

1.  Sleep- often ignored, but so important for recovery.  It allows our natural hormones to do their job, along with repair and rest for our muscular, neurological, digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems. Between 7-8 hours is the magic number for most of us- a select few can function well on less.

2.  Stress- I used to laugh when people said, “Don’t be so stressed! – easier said than done!  So much  depends on your schedule, life stage, care-taking responsibilities, financial situation, relationships- the stuff of life that we all must grapple with, day in and day out. There’s no panacea, but there are certainly tried and true ways that can help minimize every day annoyances and help keep things in perspective. Some of the simplest but most effective strategies are:

  • daily meditation or relaxation- hot bath, quiet time, or listening to your favorite music
  • reminding yourself daily for what you’re grateful
  • giving yourself time to organize your day and schedule
  • getting a massage
  • taking even short vacations when you can
  • enjoying and keeping in touch with friends and family

3.  Exercise- surprise, surprise,- not just my bias, but gathering evidence suggests these reasons why exercise is likely helpful for immune function:

  • Physical activity may help by flushing bacteria out from the lungs (thus decreasing the chance of a cold, flu, or other airborne illness) and may flush out cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) by increasing output of wastes, such as urine and sweat.
  • Exercise sends antibodies and white blood cells (the body’s defense cells) through the body at a quicker rate. As these antibodies or white blood cells circulate more rapidly, they can detect illnesses earlier than they might normally. The increased rate of circulating blood may also trigger the release of hormones that “warn” immune cells of intruding bacteria or viruses.
  • The temporary rise in body temperature may prevent bacterial growth, allowing the body to fight the infection more effectively. (This is similar to what happens when the body has a fever.)
  • Exercise slows down the release of stress-related hormones. Stress increases the chance of illness.

4.  Nutrition- There’s substantial evidence regarding necessary vitamins and minerals that aid your immune systems- deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E have been linked to decreased immune system function in mice, but more definitive studies in humans need to be done. There are some easily accessible foods that are excellent for the immune system.  In a previous blog post, I covered a lot about nutrition and the immune system-  Here’s a great website that focuses on nutrition as a building block to managing all kinds of health issues- great recipes to boot-

For a look at how to comprehensively keep your immune system healthy, check out this article. Although it contains a healthy dose of skepticism, it includes topics from nutrition, stress, diet and exercise to specific supplements and vitamins, and other simple ways to try to fend off illness.

So, start filling your prescription to enhance your immune system- try these stress management ideas, check out the healthy eating website, get adequate sleep and stack up those reasons to  consistently exercise as part of your healthy lifestyle.

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