Fight Infection With These Immune-Boosting Secrets

For those with rheumatoid arthritis, getting sick may be a cause for concern. Here’s how to boost your immune system and fend off illness. 

Kathleen Engel
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You know rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can weaken your immune system, making you more prone to colds and flus. So what can protect you besides hand washing and a flu shot? Plenty! Read on to learn about some clever ways to pump up your immunity and fight off illness.

Indulge in sounds you love; avoid those that grate on your nerves.
Sure, you’ve heard about the many health benefits of listening to music, but did you know annoying sounds can weaken your immune system? That’s why it’s important to keep the sounds in your daily environment pleasant and to control the amount of distracting or unwanted sounds. Two places to start: your work area and bedroom. If it’s noisy at work, wear headphones and jam to your favorite tunes, or use a small fan to mask the noise. Can’t sleep because of a snoring partner? Masking it with a fan works here, too, or try a “white noise” machine. Another tip: Buy a sleep app for your iPod; you can find ones with guided meditations, soothing nature sounds—even a crackling campfire!
Why it works: A study in the Southern Medical Journal reports that noise pollution (i.e., chronic exposure to unwanted and uncontrollable sounds) can raise blood pressure, increase stress hormones and disrupt your sleep quality—all factors that can hamper the immune system.
And in a study of office noise, Cornell University researchers noted it was the lack of control over the sound—not its intensity—that made it stressful; hence, the importance of taking control. Plus, listening to sounds that evoke positive emotions stimulates the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and reduces cortisol and other stress hormones, explains rheumatologist/immunologist Esther M. Sternberg, MD, author of Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being.

Do this at night. 
Go to bed earlier! Simple advice, but it comes with big payoffs. Going to bed even just 30 minutes earlier can help you establish an 8-hour sleep habit—a key way to ward off viral infections. Plus, hitting the hay by 11 pm increases the chance you’ll spend more time in the deeper stages of sleep, when the body repairs tissue and fixes immune system snafus. (Seems the late-morning hours are reserved for lighter sleep stages, when more dreaming occurs.) Need more incentive to turn in early? How about shedding a few pounds? Researchers at Northwestern University discovered that night owls—those who stay up late and sleep in—had worse eating habits and ate more calories overall, including more fast food, fewer veggies and more sugar-laden soda. And not surprisingly, they gained more weight than the early-to-bed, early-to-rise folks.
Why it works: A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who sleep less than seven hours a night are three times more likely to catch a cold than those who average eight hours or more. And the news is even worse for those who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep: Study participants who suffered even slight sleep deprivation (as little as 8%!) were 5.5 times more likely to get sick than those who slept a full eight hours.

April 2013