Some of us use our flu shot as a crutch, which is where the harm comes in. Whether you get immunized or not, research has shown that lifestyle, more than any other factor, influences the effectiveness of your immune system. Let's look at how we can change both our behavior and diet to maximize our body's ability to defend itself.
1. Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is vital for all human performance. When you don't get enough, the first thing to fail is your ability to fight off illness. Pathogens exist in all walks of life and fighting them off is an essential part of our well-being. A rested body is a recovered body, and when yours is strong, it functions with more efficiency.
2. Exercise "Yeah, yeah," you're probably thinking. "Exercise is on every list you guys make." True, but that's because our bodies are made to exercise. If we don't, we begin to fall apart. Throw a few pathogens into the mix and it'll exacerbate this inevitability, and rapidly. Sure, the act of exercise breaks you down. But this breakdown requires that you build yourself back up stronger. That's why we promote everything from Hip Hop Abs&Reg; to Yoga Booty Ballet®. Sleeping well and exercising are the two most important things you can do to keep your body healthy in almost every respect, including number three.
3. Avoid stress
This one is more difficult because stress tends to find you, not the other way around. But at least part of this is controllable, especially how we deal with it. We all have stress. What sets us apart is how we react to it.
4. Wash your hands
A very simple act that's highly effective when it comes to keeping you healthy. You don't need fancy antibacterial soap for this to work. Any simple soap will do. Just do so often because most of the things you touch, especially in public, are covered in germs. To make this easier you can now find waterless hand sanitizers, which were popularized by travelers in countries where the water was unsafe.
5. Avoid enclosed spaces
This one is toughest of all, since most of us work or go to school in enclosed spaces. But just because you're forced into a space doesn't mean that there's nothing you can do about it. We should all take more breaks at work anyway. Our bodies and our minds will perform better if we give them a break every hour or so. This is why classes tend to be about an hour long. Moving outside of your enclosed space helps you recharge with healthy elements, such as clean air, sunshine, and vitamin D.
Eating a healthy diet enhances all of the above and everything else that you do in life. Staying hydrated, in particular, is also very important for your immune system. This tends to get compounded because the flu season begins as the weather cools, which is when we feel like drinking the least amount of water.
Supplementing during times of high stress, and when you're forced to stay in an enclosed place for long periods (such as in an airplane), has been shown to reduce your chances of getting sick. But these are all obvious things, right? What is less obvious is that many natural foods and herbs have been shown to improve the body's immune system. None of these are "proven" medical remedies but all have a long history of anecdotal lore that probably has some relevant meaning, even if the AMA hasn't blessed them the same way it has pseudophedrine. Whether they work or not, all of these foods have other healthy benefits to supplement your diet, so file them under the "why not" category. With that disclaimer, here are ten foods that may boost your immune system.
From staving off vampires to its antiviral and antibacterial properties, garlic has been a wonder food of holistic medicine for as long as we've been writing about it. Just eat it in its natural form—there's a reason you've never seen anyone defend themselves against Dracula with garlic salt. Citrus fruits
They're not just for scurvy anymore. Citrus fruits are all high in vitamin C—the vitamin most commonly associated with a strong immune system.
Another one long on lore but short on science; its anecdotal history in antiviral medicine should not be discounted, though. This herb is best used only in times of severe stress.
These fruits contain exceedingly high amounts of antioxidants, which are directly responsible for fighting off would-be illnesses.
Not a real food, but with the popularity of zinc lozenges who would know? There is good science behind zinc supplementation but, again, it's a high-stress supplement only. Don't make sucking on these a part of your daily diet.
For those who want to take their zinc naturally, nothing beats oysters. And to think all this time we've only thought of them as aphrodisiacs.
Long used in Japan for their antibacterial and antiviral qualities, we're lucky that they're now a common ingredient in haute cuisine.
One of the few foods that's been a cornerstone of an entire region's diet, as it was for most everyone living between eastern Europe and Central Asia for about 4,000 years, the bacteria in yogurt help us digest other foods better as well as fight off many dangerous bacteria.
High glycemic index be dammed, there is no negative research associated with carrot eaters and plenty of positive. They are exceptionally high in beta-carotene, one of the most influential factors in a study on children's school attendance.
Another popular herb used in traditional Chinese medicine that's picking up steam under the scrutiny of Western science. The only downside is that, unfortunately, it's not yet found its place in haute cuisine.
By Steve Edwards