For some people, the winter season means at least one—usually more—colds. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Because really, who has time to be sick? The good news is three simple lifestyle habits can help shift your immune function into high gear.
Your immune system at work
The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs. They all work together to protect and defend against an onslaught of invaders. If your immune system is running on all cylinders, colds and flu don’t stand a chance. A healthy immune system can also help you feel better quicker, so even if those bugs take hold, they won’t be around for long. A weakened immune system, on the other hand, might let those pesky pathogens run amok.
Here are three things you can do to make sure you keep your immune system running smoothly.
1. Get moving. Being active can help move out those microbes. When you get your heart rate up, neutrophils and monocytes (immune cells involved in whole body defense) come out of hiding and circulate freely through the blood. And they stay active for about three hours after you exercise. In one study, researchers at the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University, North Carolina Research Campus, followed 1,000 people and found that those who exercised five days a week for 20 minutes or more had a 43 percent reduction in the number of days they were sick.1
Try walking, cycling, swimming, playing sports or ballroom dancing, for at least 20 minutes, five days per week, to get the benefit.
2. Snooze soundly. Admittedly, it’s hard to get enough sleep every night. In one study, led by a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, 30 percent of people who only slept five to six hours a night came down with a cold when exposed to the virus. By contrast, only 17 percent of those who slept more than seven hours a night came down with a cold.2 Being run down and exhausted, puts stress on your body. And stress is known to suppress the immune system.
To get your best rest:
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Set the thermostat between 60 and 68 degrees.
- Stay steady. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends and vacations.
- Take a hot shower or bath about an hour before bed. As your core body temperature cools, it gets the signal it’s time to sleep.
3. Get a hug. Yes, you read that right. You already know that getting a hug makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Well, science out of at Carnegie Mellon, along with the University of Virginia and the University of Pittsburg, found that hugs can ward off the common cold as well. Researchers looked at over 400 participants and found that in times of tension (which, let’s face it, is most of the time), those who felt greater social support and got more frequent hugs were less susceptible to the common cold.3
Being sick stinks. But with just a few lifestyle, tweaks you can avoid being buried under a pile of tissues and stay healthy all season long.
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1. Nieman DC, Henson DA, Austin MD, Sha W. Upper respiratory tract infection is reduced in physically fit and active adults. Br J Sports Med. 2011;45(12):987-92. PMID: 21041243.
2. Prather AA, Janicki-Deverts D, Hall MH, Cohen S. Behaviorally assessed sleep and susceptibility to the common cold. Sleep. 2015;38(9):1353-9. PMID: 26118561.
3. Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Turner RB, Doyle WJ. Does hugging provide stress-buffering social support? A study of susceptibility to upper respiratory infection and illness. Psychol Sci. 2015;26(2):135-47. PMID: 25526910.