Here are 9 habits that can make you sick:
1. Smoking and Your Immune System
Another reason to give up cigarettes: They weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to cold and flu. "You can damage the first lines of defense, the linings of your mouth and your nose, which are actually part of your immune system," Dr. Rich says. Smoking can also make your immune system turn on you; a recently published study found that smoking may cause the immune system to attack lung tissue, worsening chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, or COPD, an incurable respiratory condition.
2. Lack of Sleep and Your Immune System
Squeaking by on a few hours of zzz's doesn't just make you feel wiped out, it can also make you more susceptible to cold and flu. "Getting adequate sleep helps the body to be rested and prepared to fight infections," Rich says. Lack of sleep increases your chances of developing many conditions such as depression, diabetes, and obesity. Everyone needs different amounts of sleep, but most adults should average seven to nine hours per night.
3. Too Much Alcohol and Your Immune System
Regularly overindulging in alcoholic drinks can have a negative effect on your immune system, Rich says. Drinking too much can wear away the linings of your mouth and esophagus, making it easier for viruses and bacteria to enter your body and for cold or flu to take over. Women who drink alcohol should limit their intake to one drink per day, while men should have no more than two per day.
4. Stress and Your Immune System
Pressure, whether from work, personal commitments, or other sources, can weaken the body's immune response and make you more likely to come down with cold, flu, and other viral infections. "For instance, take herpes - you'll see it break out when someone is stressed," Rich says. "It shows up when the immune system is down." To de-stress and stay healthy, try exercising for 30 minutes a day or practicing deep breathing - both can diminish the effects of stress.
5. Poor Diet and Your Immune System
Bad dietary habits, like eating foods with too much sugar or not enough fruits and vegetables, can impair your immune function. It can also cause you to be overweight, a condition that makes you more susceptible to disease. "Obesity may be somewhat linked to immune-system function," Rich says. A healthy diet should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat milk.
6. Risky Sexual Behavior and Your Immune System
Unsafe sexual behaviors can put you at greater risk for human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, a condition that weakens the immune system and hampers the body's ability to fight infections. Having multiple sexual partners and vaginal, oral, or anal sex without using condoms increases your risk of becoming HIV-positive.
7. Lack of Exercise and Your Immune System
Studies have shown that regular exercise can bolster your immune system by enhancing its ability to create antibodies and T-cells, which are white blood cells that help the body fight disease. As little as 20 minutes of walking five days a week can help your immune system perform at its best.
8. Depression and Your Immune System
Having untreated depression can make you more likely to succumb to cold and flu as well. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that women with depression are more likely to have imbalances in certain immune-system substances. These imbalances can increase the risk of developing illnesses like heart disease and insulin resistance. If you believe you are at risk for depression, get in touch with your doctor.
9. Not Getting Vaccines and Your Immune System
If you want to avoid illnesses like the flu, shingles, and other preventable diseases, conquer any fear of needles. One of the easiest ways to avoid certain illnesses is by getting vaccinated against them. Most of the vaccines available today are extremely effective; the seasonal flu shot, for example, can reduce your chances of getting the flu by up to 90 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends annual flu shots for adults.
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