Immune System Boosters

7 Ways to Have Fun While Fighting Cold and Flu
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Getting a cold or the flu is no fun. But it turns out you can have a pretty good time trying to prevent these sicknesses. Many easy-to-do, easy-to-like actions have been shown to give the immune system a boost. And having stronger immunity means you have better odds of withstanding all the cold and flu germs in circulation at this time of year. See seven ways you can boost your immune system now.

1. Treat Yourself to a Massage to Fight a Cold

Massage -- whether given by a strong-armed loved one or a pro -- does more than unclench your muscles. It helps reduce cortisol (a.k.a. the "stress hormone") and increases immune response. In a 2010 Cedars-Sinai study, healthy adults who received regular Swedish massage over five weeks were found in blood tests to have significant increases in lymphocytes, disease-fighting white blood cells. Other research shows that other forms of touch, like hugs and hand-holding, also reduce stress hormones.

How Funny Movies Can Fight Colds and Flu

It's no joke: Laughter has been shown to trigger the body's protective cells, especially the white blood cells called T cells, which originate in the thymus and are key immune-system organizers. Though a 2009 review in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary Medicine says the research connecting mirth and immunity is "tentative," in part because it's hard to measure, a Monty Python marathon can't hurt. Laughter lowers stress, which is also known to impact the immune system.

Share What Makes You Laugh?

How Positive Thinking Can Fight Colds and Flu

Ruminating about gray weather, long to-do lists, and sick people all around you? Flip your focus to positive thinking. You'll help trigger the immunity-pleasure connection, a critical link between the mind's perception of pleasure and the body's ability to fight off illness, says psychologist Carl Charnetski, author of Feeling Good Is Good for You. Especially in situations where stress is short-term, keeping positive and optimistic seems to have a positive effect on the immune system, found a 2005 review in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. Many studies show that optimists are healthier overall.

See 7 Ways to Turn Around Negative Thinking.

How Having Sex Weekly Can Fight Colds and Flu

You might say, "Don't kiss me!" after you get a cold. But to prevent one, you might want to try more kissing, etc. Especially the "etc." An old but oft-quoted 1999 study from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania reported that subjects who had sex once or twice a week contained higher levels of immunoglobulin A (an antibody that helps ward off cold viruses) in their saliva than did subjects who had sex less frequently or not at all. Start early: Some researchers say that morning sex provides a boost of stress-reducing chemicals that persist all day long.

Get advice about How to Stop Caregiving From Spoiling Your Sex Life.

Eat the Rainbow to Fight Colds and Flu

Don't despair over the recent headlines that your vitamin D supplements, like vitamin C, are useless in preventing colds. Rather than zeroing in on a single supervitamin, turn to the immune-boosters found naturally in foods. Most fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants -- nutrients that help remove damaging oxidizing agents from body that can interfere with immune function. As a rule of thumb, the more intense the color, the more abundant the antioxidants, says Duke University integrative nutritionist Beth Reardon, food and nutrition editor. Great examples to brighten your winter plate: blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, kale, carrots, beets, purple cabbage.

See 12 more Foods With Super-Healing Powers.

How Going to Bed Early Can Help Fight Colds and Flu

For fewer "Achoos!" get more zzzzzs. Lots of data shows that people who get too little sleep are far more vulnerable to germs. Minimal sleepers (getting fewer than seven hours a night) were three times more likely to develop a cold when exposed to viruses than were those who got eight or more hours, found a 2009 Archives of Internal Medicine study. That's because sleep helps fuel the proper functioning of the immune system. Severe sleep deprivation even kicks in the same response that the body shows to severe stress, taxing the immune system, showed a small 2012 study at the University of Surrey. Naps can help.

See 5 Secrets to Great Naps.

How a Walk With a Friend Fights Colds and Flu

Combine two well-documented immunity boosters by exercising with a friend. You'll reap mental and physical benefits even if you're just ambling around the block or the local mall. Loneliness is a known risk factor for low immunity, while social ties are protective. A study at Carnegie Mellon University found that among people exposed to cold virus, those who had the most diverse social networks (neighbors, church members, workmates, and so on) got sick least. Older and already-sick people are especially prone to a low immune response, found a 2002 study on depression and immunity. So better yet, walk over to visit a friend who may be isolated -- as long as nobody in the social circle is contagious!

Exercising with an older companion? See ideas in 6 Creative Ways to Get Moving.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio