Four simple strategies to a healthier you

Your kids get a cold and you count down the days until it hits you. Your co-worker calls in sick and you just know you’ll be you next. Why is it that you catch every bug going around? Because your immune system isn’t what it should be.

Your immune system is responsible for fighting off illness and infection. If it’s not working up to par, expect to get sick. Yes, you must first somehow be exposed to a virus or bacteria to get sick and genetics may determine the strength of your immune system, but your lifestyle also affects how well your immune system can fight off illness.

Diet, sleep, exercise, and stress all have a powerful impact on your overall health.

What you put in your body affects the functioning of all bodily systems, including your immune system. As you choose what to eat each day, make sure you add plenty of protein. Protein is used by your body to help make white blood cells, which are key players in the fight against illness. Get your protein from lean meats, fish, yogurt, beans, or nuts.

If you’re prone to respiratory infections, you’ll need to eat plenty of good-fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel. The omega-3 fatty acids found in these fish boost levels of helper T cells, which help to fight viruses.

Don’t want to catch that cold going around? Then eat your daily eight to nine fruits and veggies. Research has shown eating this much produce may reduce your risk of coming down with a cold by 25%.

Pharmacy shelves are filled with immune-boosting pills, but the two shown to be most helpful are Vitamin D and probiotics. Vitamin D increases the production of T cells. It’s hard to get enough Vitamin D from foods, so it may benefit your health to take a 1,000 IU supplement each day.

Probiotics work to keep the bacteria in your gut balanced, while also giving a boost to your white blood cells and cutting your risk of upper respiratory infections. Take a probiotics daily as directed. Always check with your doctor first though on taking supplements.

During sleep, your body gets the rest it needs so it has strength to function at its best. While you sleep, however, your immune system is still at work, releasing cytokines. These proteins fight infection. Getting your recommended amount of sleep each night, therefore, gives your body a chance to combat invading viruses.

Exercising, without overdoing it, gives a boost to your immune system response. Why is this? As physical activity gets blood pumping through your body and increases your respiration, bacteria get flushed out of your lungs and carcinogens get flushed out in your sweat and urine. At the same time, infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies circulate faster throughout your body, hormones are released to warn the immune system of invaders, and stress hormones decrease. Need another perk? The rise in body temperature that comes courtesy of exercise helps prevent the growth of bacteria.

Get half an hour of exercise five days out of the week for optimal immune system functioning.

Ongoing emotional and physical stress places undue strain on your immune system, leading to a release of adrenaline and cortisol. These two hormones decrease the production of T cells. Adopt healthy stress management skills such as exercise, prayer and meditation, therapy sessions, or just some good belly laughs.

Want to take the fun path to a stronger immune system? Laugh! It helps boost your immune system and your mood!

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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