It’s the height of cold and flu season and many folks have come down with nasty respiratory illnesses after post-holiday stress wreaks havoc with their immune system. But what about those people who seem to sail through the winter months without a sniffle? What’s their secret?
According to David Nieman, a professor of public health and director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University, regular exercise is the secret.
“If you look at all the lifestyle factors that decrease the number of days you suffer from the common cold, being a physically active and fit person is the most important,” he says in an article from Time magazine.
In one of his studies, he and his colleagues found that 30 minutes of brisk walking increased the circulation of natural killer cells, white cells and other immune system warriors.
When these immune cells encounter an illness-causing pathogen, they kill it very effectively, he says.
“But we found that, about three hours after exercise, these immune cells retreat back to the tissues they came from,” he says. Therefore, the immune-boosting effects of exercise are short lived and we need to exercise regularly to reap the benefits.
“If you had a housekeeper come in and clean for 30 minutes every day, by the end of the month, your house would look a lot better,” the expert explains. “I think the same thing happens with your immune system and pathogen clearance of the body.”
He recommends 30 to 60 minutes daily of moderate intensity exercise such as brisk walking, cycling or easy running. Weightlifting may also help, but more studies are needed. On the flip side, 75 minutes or more of intense exercise may be overdoing it and actually lower your immune system response.
Other ways to stay healthy are:
- Get enough sleep. Dr. Nathaniel Watson, professor of neurology and sleep medicine at the University of Washington and author of a 2017 study on sleep and the immune system found that sleep deprived people exposed to viruses are more likely to get sick than well-rested people. Although the formula for getting enough sleep can vary from one individual to another, the professor says that at least seven hours of sleep – not just time in bed — seems to be beneficial.
- Eat a varied diet. “What we eat fuels our body and without proper fuel our immune systems don’t work as well,” says Dr. Jason Goldsmith, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Immunology. He says that while most people in America don’t have to worry about malnutrition, people may be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. “In particular, the B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc and vitamin D are important for proper immune function.” According to Reader’s Digest, people who eat less protein also have weaker immune systems. And steer clear of sugar which impedes the ability of white blood cells to destroy viruses and bacteria.
- Keep your hands to yourself. Be mindful of what you are touching in public places. Subway poles and stair banisters have been touched by hundreds of people so wash your hands frequently if you commute. Avoid touching your face before washing your hands.
- Get a flu shot. Andrew Sussman M.D., president of MinuteClinic and associate medical officer of CVS Health, says that the most effective way to avoid getting sick is by getting the flu shot.
- Get fresh air. People mistakenly think it’s the cold weather that makes you sick when its actually the time you spend indoors that’s the culprit, say experts. Spend a little time outdoors each day.