It can happen in the blink of an eye. One day, everyone’s fine, and the next, your friends, coworkers, and roommates drop one by one into the miserable abyss of flu season.
If you fear the dreaded illness is coming for you next, don’t stockpile the tissues yet. Beyond getting a flu shot and washing your hands religiously, the best line of defense comes from simple, healthy habits.
Below are nine natural ways to support your immune system. Because who has time for a sick day? (Just kidding. Everyone needs time to recuperate. Please, take a sick day if you need it.)
1. Sleep like a regular human being.
It’s tempting to binge-watch your favorite show until 3 a.m. But research shows that staying up all night can wreak havoc on your immune system, making you more likely to catch a virus and making it even harder to fight it off.
Do your body a favor: Ditch the late night screen time and get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
2. Eat more garlic.
You may not be doing your breath any favors, but eating garlic regularly can do wonders for your health. Not only does it boost your immune system, it can help prevent heart disease, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
The best part? It’s delicious. Blend together pesto with raw garlic and throw it over a pasta or bread. Or if you’re feeling bold, whip up a spicy, homemade immunity shot with raw garlic, ginger, carrots and lemon for a quick system boost.
3. Drink lemon, honey, ginger and turmeric with warm water.
Many people swear by this tonic as a tried and true remedy for colds. But does this magical elixir actually work or is it just an old wive's tale? The research on each individual ingredient looks promising.
A 2012 review published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that honey, an antioxidant, acts as a natural immunity booster. Ginger, another powerful antioxidant with antiviral properties, can be used to treat digestive woes like nausea and motion sickness. Lemon juice is high in vitamin C, which according to Mayo Clinic can be used for its antioxidant properties and to prevent the common cold. Lastly, studies show that curcumin, a component in the spice called turmeric, can regulate the immune system.
4. Make a batch of chicken soup.
Think that bowl of chicken soup is just a comfort food? Think again. The dish actually has a mild anti-inflammatory effect, thanks to the vegetables and chicken, according to a University of Nebraska Medical Center study.
Ingredients in the soup (when made with chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery, parsley, salt and pepper) have been found to slow the migration of white blood cells into the upper respiratory tract, which helps relieve cold symptoms. What's more, according to UCLA Center East-West Medicine, is that carnosine, a compound found in chicken soup and chicken breast, could help prevent the common cold.
5. Make workouts a part of your weekly regimen.
You don't have to turn into a full-on fitness fanatic to boost your immune system. Simply going for a daily stroll or sneaking in a yoga class a few times week will keep you physically fit and help your immune system stay in top shape.
Exercise may flush bacteria out of your lungs, reducing your chance of picking up an airborne illness, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It also causes your white blood cells to circulate more rapidly, allowing your immune system to detect illnesses more quickly.
6. Indulge in tea time.
Sipping tea in the morning or right before bed is so relaxing, it might as well be its own form of meditation. But it's not just a pleasant ritual: A 2003 study revealed that naturally occurring chemicals in tea called alkylamines strengthen the immune system to help it fight off infection, National Geographic reported.
Perhaps the best thing about tea is its variety in taste and in nutritional benefits. Peppermint tea can help with indigestion, bloating and IBS, while studies suggest that the black, green and oolong teas are rich in antioxidants and may have cancer-fighting properties, John Weisburger, a senior researcher at the Institute for Cancer Prevention, told WebMD.
7. Have yogurt for breakfast.
Probiotics found in yogurt can strengthen the body's immune system and help you fight off infection. According to a study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, athletes in New Zealand who consumed a probiotic had 40 percent fewer colds and gastrointestinal infections, Prevention reported. Yogurt is also rich in vitamin D, which gives your immune system a healthy boost.
And not only is yogurt a nutritious morning meal, researchers have also found that consuming vanilla yogurt may make you happier (really!). Talk about a win-win.
8. Soak up some sun.
You may resist the idea of going outside in the winter when your front door is frozen shut, but venturing out when there's a bit of sun shining is great for your immunity.
As previously mentioned, vitamin D is an immune system supercharger and soaking up a few rays is the most natural and efficient way to stock up on it.
Just make sure not to overdo it. Too many rays can result in sunburns or skin cancer. You only need a few minutes -- between 15 to 20 -- to get the D dosage you need.
9. Laugh a little (or a lot).
Binge-watching until the wee hours of the night isn't recommended, but a few episodes of your favorite funny show are beneficial. A 2007 study found that laughter really is the best medicine: It can give your immunity a ridiculously easy boost.
Laughing -- and an overall happy, positive attitude -- lowers stress levels and can promote sleep, arguably two of the most crucial elements to a healthy body. And, admit it, it's probably the most fun you'll have giving your immune system a boost.
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