By Linda Knittel
Healthnotes Newswire (November 25, 2009)—It’s true that you are what you eat, but your health is also a reflection of what you do. That’s why making healthy lifestyle choices can drastically affect your ability to keep illness at bay.
The following steps can help optimize your immune-system strength:
• Exercise regularly
• Limit alcohol, caffeine, and sugar
• Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
• Drink lots of water (buy or bottle your own for easy access)
• Don’t miss meals
Take your vitamins
Even if you never eat junk food or miss meals, your body will still need a bit of help getting all the nutrients it needs to stay strong. That is where supplements come in. A good multivitamin is a must. In addition, boosting your intake of the nutrients below can help prevent deficiencies that make you a target for infections:
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin D
Excessive stress essentially cripples the immune system, making the body less able to fend off everything from bacteria and viruses to serious diseases. Finding ways to relax is essential for your good health. Give the following a try:
• Warm baths with soothing oils, such as lavender
Whatever you choose, look for activities—or nonactivities—that give you a real break from everyday work and home obligations.
Catch some Zs
Skimping on sleep can cut your immune defenses in half, so be sure to snooze a full eight hours a night. If you can’t get a full night’s sleep because of time constraints, try to squeeze in a 15- to 30-minute nap during the day. Although not as beneficial as nighttime rest, a nap can help stave off illness.
Build good bacteria
Making sure the good bacteria in your body outnumber the bad is one way to help fend off infection. Healthy probiotic bacteria stimulate the intestine’s immune system and slow the growth of infectious organisms in the digestive system. Good sources of healthy bacteria are yogurt and other foods containing live cultures, and supplements containing 10 billion colony-forming units a day of acidophilus or bifidobacteria.
Try taming tonics
Miraculously, tonics are believed both to energize your system when it’s low and to protect it when it’s over-stimulated. That is the beauty of adaptogens, also known as tonics. Essentially, adaptogens may help keep the immune system in balance and help spare vital tissues from stress-induced damage. Examples include:
• Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus)
• Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
• Reishi mushroom
A nutritional anthropologist by training, Linda Knittel works as a nutritional counselor and health writer. She writes regularly about nutrition, alternative medicine, traditional diets, yoga, and fitness for publications such as Natural Health, Yoga Journal, Body & Soul, Fitness, Gourmet, and Let’s Live. She is also the author of the User's Guide to Natural Remedies for Depression (Basic Health Publications, 2003).
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