Jan 15, 2014 8:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

It’s not enough that sniffly germs lurk on doorknobs and tabletops. Winter’s bounty of holiday goodies—and even social gatherings—does its own damage to your immune system. Here’s how to give your disease defenses a fighting chance:

diet nutrition

Immune System

Eat a Balanced Diet

Sugar has been shown to stifle and deplete the immune system, but a healthy diet will energize and reinvigorate the body’s defenses. Your diet is one factor in determining whether you face the season in sickness or in health.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Social stress can be even more damaging than physical stress on the body’s immune system, so relax if things don’t go exactly as planned when your in-laws arrive for the holidays.

Eat Those Antioxidants

Include this powerful antioxidant trio in your diet: vitamin E, vitamin C and beta carotene. They are in a variety of foods that work well in holiday dishes. Try beets, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, onions and beans; berries are also a terrific source of antioxidants. Cheers to good health.

Get Some Sleep

Luckily, sleep comes easily to most people in winter, when hibernation seems the natural response to darkness and cold. And it may be one of the best ways to help your immune system stay strong. A lack of sleep appears to increase levels of stress hormones (cortisol), and can also lead to more inflammation in the body. While researchers aren’t yet sure how sleep helps the immune system, they point to seven to nine hours nightly for better immunity.

Laugh It Off

Who would have thought that laughing could actually help your body stay healthy? When your family gathers for a movie night, suggest seeing a comedy. Laughter curbs stress hormones and boosts white blood cells that fight infection.

Exercise and Meditate

Exercise and meditation are a potent combination to lift your immune system. Experts theorize that exercise slows down the release of stress-related hormones, flushes bacteria from the lungs, accelerates the flow of antibodies and white blood cells, expels carcinogens, increases the output of wastes, and prevents bacterial growth. Additionally, 20 minutes of daily meditation can be a helpful tool to reduce stress.

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