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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Banish the word diet! 
Many folks are tempted to lose weight quickly before the holidays as a preemptive strike. But bouncing on and off diets is a bad idea. According to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, yo-yo dieting—losing weight, then regaining it, then starting yet another diet—weakens your immune system. A better idea? Get honest about your food intake by writing it down and noticing the times when you eat “mindlessly” or when you’re not hungry. 
Why it works: Maintaining a stable weight is linked with higher natural killer cell activity—which means they’re more effective at destroying cells infected with viruses and bacteria. And studies show the simple act of recording what and when you eat can encourage gradual—yet permanent—changes in eating habits.

Get out and mingle. 
Spend some time with people you enjoy—or in activities with others that you find rewarding. “Studies show that the more positive social interactions you have, the healthier you are,” says Dr. Sternberg. You can also get the same benefit by volunteering (try for ideas). The key, says Dr. Sternberg, is to balance time alone and time spent with others. You’ll know you’ve had enough “me time” if you start feeling bored or lonely.
Why it works: The good feelings you enjoy from being with others cause a flood of nerve chemicals and brain hormones that stimulate the immune system to speed healing. Feeling isolated, on the other hand, can hamper your immunity by increasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, says Dr. Sternberg. She also notes that showing compassion toward others triggers a release of hormones that fight infection.

Bask in the light
Taking in more bright light—whether outdoors or indoors—can boost your sense of well-being and your immune system. Shoot for getting 20 minutes of sunlight on most days of the week. If you can’t get outside much, consider using an indoor light box that provides full-spectrum light, which mimics the effects of sunshine (just do a web search using the term light box therapy)
Mood bonus: Morning bright light exposure can help ward off the winter blues, too.
Why it works: “There are two ways light can help,” says Dr. Sternberg. “Being in sunlight or full-spectrum light boosts mood and lowers stress. And anything you can do to reduce the stress response will enhance the strength of the immune system.” Additionally, when sunlight hits the skin, the body produces vitamin D, a nutrient that helps the immune system tame inflammation and speed healing.

April 2013