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Avoid Getting Sick: Seven Tips for Helping Your Immune System Protect You from Illness

Tips for helping boost your immune system. Learn how some minor health and lifestyle changes can greatly enhance your body's ability to fight off contagious germs.

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by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

Whether it's the flu, the common cold, or some other contagious germ or virus trying to attack your body and make you ill, you can fight it -- fight them all. In fact, it's relatively easy to make some changes to your diet and lifestyle that will greatly enhance your body's natural defenses -- your immune system -- in fighting off the unwanted disease.

What can you do today (and everyday forward) to help strengthen and boost your immune system? Follow these seven tips for helping your immune system protect you from illness.

1. Quit Smoking. Just about everyone now knows that smoking can lead to numerous long-term health problems, including increased risk of lung cancer, strokes, heart disease, and emphysema, but smoking also has an impact on your daily health. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking harms just about every organ in the body, resulting in a reduced level of health in general -- and a weaker ability to fight off infections. The CDC states: "More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined." Read more about the health effects of smoking in this fact sheet from the CDC.

2. Eliminate Sugar. Is sugar the greatest evil lurking in our households, as many suggest? The one-word answer: yes. Sugar -- in all its forms (granular, powdered, brown, raw, cane, beet, fructose, dextrose, dextrin, glucose, corn syrup, molasses, honey, and others) -- is a proven health hazard that adversely impacts our health by increasing our blood sugar levels, affecting insulin production, promoting tooth decay, adversely impacting mental disorders and depression, swelling inflammation in our bodies, and promoting cancer cell growth... In other words, sugar use can lead to major health conditions, including diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart disease -- but it can also suppress our immune system, making us more susceptible to infections. For more i nformation, read: 146 Reasons Why Sugar is Ruining Your Health.

3. Reduce Alcohol Consumption. While very moderate amounts of alcohol can be beneficial to your health (one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men), alcohol abuse is unhealthy for a number of reasons, including leading to increased chances of a stroke, fatty liver, fibrosis, pancreatitis and cirrhosis. Alcohol, like sugar, interferes with the body's metabolism of nutrients and leads to a reduction of your immune system -- thus the more you drink (and the less you eat) results in greater chances of illness. In fact, when possible, cut out alcohol and add drinking more water to your daily routine. Read more from the Mayo Clinic's Alcohol Use: Why Moderation is Key.

4. Eat Healthier. Making some minor adjustments in your diet can not only help you avoid getting sick, but improve your overall health and wellness. So, stop eating the donuts or other sugary cereals for breakfast, skip the fatty burger or other fast food at lunch, and dump the fried chicken or pizza for dinner -- and change your diet to include more fresh fruits and vegetables, naturally sweetened juices and teas, and lean cuts of meat, poultry, and fish. Use herbs and spices rather than salt. The vitamins and minerals in healthy foods can actually increase your immune system and shield you from many common illnesses -- while also helping to improve your overall long-term health and wellness. Read more in our article, 10 Easy Tips for Healthier Eating.

5. Exercise Daily. The benefits of daily exercise go much farther than simply helping to protect you from the cold and flu. By committing to minimum of 30 minutes of exercise (including something as simple as walking), you can reduce long-term health conditions (such as coronary artery disease and Type II diabetes), help maintain or reduce weight, increase muscle (and bone) strength, boost self-esteem, lift your spirits, and generally enhancing your overall health. Combining aerobic and strength-building exercises provides even a bigger boost to your health and wellness. Read our article, 10 Quick Tips for Enhancing Overall Health.

6. Get Enough Sleep. Few of us get the amount of sleep we need to have better overall mental and physical health. The body and the mind both need to be shutdown for periods of replenishment and renourishment. Continued sleep depravation can contribute to physical health problems such as weight gain, high blood pressure, blood vessel damage leading to increased heart disease risk, and a decrease in our immune system. Finding the time -- or the ability -- to get enough sleep can be a challenge. Read more in our article, 10 Quick Sleep Tips for Staying Healthy.

7. Reduce Stress. Whether we like it or not, some level of stress is inherent in our lives -- it's simply part of life. Stress is not the issue -- the issue is how we deal with it and whether we have too much of it. Certainly the inability to deal with stress has a major impact on overall health and wellness. High levels of stress (or stress that is beyond our coping) can lead to short-term health conditions such as high blood pressure, headaches, anxiety attacks, tension, stomach disorders, sleeplessness, nervousness, depression, muscle cramps, and higher susceptibility to cold and flu -- as well as in long-term chronic health problems, adversely affecting your immune, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. Find ways to deal with the stresses of your life in our article, 10 Tips for Coping with Life's Stress.

Final Thoughts on Protecting Yourself from Germs and Viruses

While making these lifestyle changes, remember too to follow some simple rules to protect yourself from germs and viruses:
  • Wash your hands (thoroughly) after being in public places; use hand sanitizers in a pinch, but remember nothing beats a good hand-washing
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes and touching your nose or lips before washing your hands
  • Avoid standing or sitting near someone who is coughing or sneezing
  • Wipe down any shared surfaces at your workplace with an anti-bacterial wipe
  • Get a flu shot -- especially if you are in one of the more susceptible groups -- younger children and older folks.
  • Finally, please remember that if you start developing cold or flu symptoms, you should see your doctor as quickly as possible because the flu can lead to further medical complications -- especially if you have existing health issues.

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    Avid wellness guru Dr. Randall S. Hansen Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., is an avid bicyclist, adventurist, environmentalist, and student of wellness and photography, with a mission of empowering others to lead great lives. He is Founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites. Dr. Hansen is also the founder and caretaker of this site, EmpoweringRetreat.com, as well as founder of EmpoweringAdvice.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com or reach him by email at CEO(at)empoweringsites.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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