Lifestyle Steps to Boost Your Immune System

There are daily lifestyle habits that can boost your immunity and help your body fight off colds, flu and other invaders.

1. Keep Your Hands Clean
It's your fist line of defense: Wash your hands often. Hands should be washed frequently with soap and water, and hand washing should last for at least 20 seconds. If hands are not visibly soiled, hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent alcohol are also effective. Even if you are a persistent hand washer, you should still avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Cold and flu germs are easily passed not only through hand-to-hand contact, but also through shared use of items, so any way you can avoid touching public objects will cut your risk. Little things like taking your own pen wherever you go so you don't need to borrow someone else's can limit your exposure.

Be sure to practice good hygiene etiquette yourself, such as always covering coughs and sneezes with tissues, coughing and sneezing into the inside of the elbow, and discarding used tissues.

2. Get enough sleep
Poor sleep is associated with lower immune system function and reduced numbers of killer cells that fight germs. In fact, University of Chicago researchers found that men who had slept only 4 hours a night for 1 week produced half the amount of flu-fighting antibodies in their blood (jump-started by a flu shot) compared with those who slept 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 hours.

How you feel in the morning and throughout the day may be the best way to measure how well rested you are. If you're tired when you wake up in the morning, you're not getting enough sleep, or at least not enough quality sleep.

3. Have a Positive Attitude
Optimists have less stress in their lives and better health. One reason could be that optimists take better care of themselves, but it could also be due to less stress-related damage to the immune system.

Research shows that life satisfaction trickles up from tiny, positive events that occur every day-not down from what you have or what you think you need. So look for reasons-however small-to feel lucky and grateful every day.

4. Express Your Feelings - Constructively
People who keep their opinions and emotions bottled have killer T cells that are less active than those found in more expressive peers.
Having a constructive argument with your spouse can actually increase immunity, with surges in blood pressure, heart rate, and immune-related white blood cells similar to that seen with moderate exercise. But it has to stay constructive; couples who frequently use sarcasm, insults, and put-downs have fewer virus-fighting natural killer cells, have higher levels of stress hormones, and take up to 40% longer to recover from injuries than those who manage to stay positive during their quarrels.

5. Combat Chronic Stress
Chronic stress-the day-after-day kind as opposed to temporary- causes a measurable decline in the immune system's ability to fight disease. Periods of extreme stress can result in a lower natural killer cell count, sluggish killer T cells, and diminished macrophage activity that can amplify the immune response.

If you're not able to avoid stress, find healthy stress relievers that help you unwind and recover, such as exercise, reading, prayer, and spending time with loved ones, which leads to #6.

6. Maintain your relationships
Research shows that the more human connections we have at home, at work, and in the community, the less likely we are to get sick, the better we handle stress, and the longer we live. In one study, researchers who monitored 276 people between the ages of 18 and 55 found that those who had 6 or more connections were 4 times better at fighting off the viruses that cause colds than those with fewer friends.

7. Stay Active
One in four American women doesn't exercise at all-and that's an easy way to set yourself up for sickness. When researchers compared inactive people with those who walked briskly almost every day, they found that who didn't walk took twice as many sick days in 4 months as those who strolled regularly.

Just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise-a brisk walk counts- sweeps white blood cells back into circulation, making your immune system run more smoothly

8. Avoid Secondhand Smoke
Secondhand smoke is almost as harmful as the direct effects of smoking. Each year, because of exposure to tobacco smoke, an estimated 3,000 nonsmoking Americans die of lung cancer and 300,000 children suffer from lower respiratory-tract infections. Secondhand smoke can trigger an asthma attack and aggravate symptoms in people with allergies. In addition, tobacco smoke has been shown to make asthma worse in preschool children and may even cause it.

9. Take Antibiotics Responsibly
Taking antibiotics unnecessarily can make you resistant to these drugs over time, causing more serious infections. Researchers found that certain patients taking antibiotics had reduced levels of cytokines, the hormone messengers of the immune system. When your immune system is suppressed, you're more likely to develop resistant bacteria or become sick in the future.

Take antibiotics only for bacterial infections, use them right away, and take the entire course. Don't use antibiotics as a preventive measure unless prescribed by your doctor, and don't save or share unfinished courses.

10. Laugh!
Researchers have found that the positive emotions associated with laughter decrease stress hormones and increase certain immune cells while activating others. In one study, healthy adults who watched a funny video for an hour had significant increases in immune system activity.

So go ahead and laugh – at a favorite movie, with friends, or even at the daily comics.