Back to the Gym

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Everyone knows is flu season and instead of freaking out, I’ve been thinking about ways to be as healthy as I can. As I told you recently, my husband put on his superman cape and got us all signed up to workout in the gym. I went feeling crappy and left feeling great – so great I got a manicure to complete my greatness. I kept wondering if exercise could boost my immune system and the answer is yes. Here is an article I found on WebMD:

5 Immune System Boosters

1. Regular exercise: If you want to boost your immune system, get active. Getting your heart rate up for just 20 minutes just three times a week is associated with increased immune function, and a brisk walk five days a week can help reduce your risk of catching a cold. Regular exercise increases the level of leukocytes, an immune system cell that fights infection. Exercise also is associated with increased release of endorphins, natural hormones that pump up your sense of well being and improve sleep quality, both of which have positive effects on your immune system.

2. Get more antioxidants in your diet: A diet rich in antioxidant vitamins and nutrients can boost immunity to help fight infection. Your body produces free radicals -- molecules that can damage cells. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals so they can’t do any damage. Researchers believe that when the balance between free radicals and antioxidants is upset, it can contribute to developing cancer and heart disease, as well as age-related diseases. Top antioxidants include vitamins C and E, plus beta-carotene and zinc. To get enough of these antioxidants in your diet, experts recommend eating an abundance of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, including berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, red grapes, kale, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Other immune-boosting foods include fresh garlic, which has claims of antiviral and antibacterial properties, and old-fashioned chicken soup. A study showed that if you do come down with a cold or the flu, a bowl of steaming chicken soup can boost immunity and help you get well faster. In addition, mushroom varieties such as reichi, maitake, and shiitake may have some influence on immune function.

3. Adequate sleep: Fatigue increases your susceptibility to illness – you may have noticed you’re more likely to catch a cold or other infection when you’re not getting enough sleep. A lab experiment bears this out: When students at the University of Chicago were limited to only four hours of sleep a night for six nights and then given a flu vaccine, their immune systems produced only half the normal number of antibodies. Like stress, insomnia can cause a rise in inflammation in the body – possibly because lack of sleep also leads to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. Although researchers aren’t exactly sure how sleep boosts the immune system, it’s clear that getting adequate amounts – usually 7 to 9 hours for an adult – is essential to good health.

4. Practice relaxation techniques: If chronic stress suppresses the immune system, then learning techniques to reduce stress should help return your immune system to health – and maybe even give it an additional boost. Reducing stress lowers levels of cortisol. It also helps you sleep better, which improves immune function. And some studies show that people who meditate regularly may be able to increase their immune system response. In one experiment, people who meditated over an 8-week period produced more antibodies to a flu vaccine than people who didn’t meditate. And they still showed an increased immune system response four months later.

5. Laugh: Comedy is good for you. Laughing decreases the levels of stress hormones in the body while increasing a type of white blood cell that fights infection. In fact, even just anticipating a funny event can have a positive effect on your immune system. In one study, a group of men who were told three days in advance that they were going to watch a funny video saw levels of stress hormones drop while levels of endorphins and growth hormones rose. Both endorphins and growth hormones benefit the immune system. more

* One of the many blogs I follow has a cute update: Losing Weight after Baby Video