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Boost Your Immune System

If someone asked you what kind of immune system you wanted, you'd probably say one that's tough as nails, a real fighting machine. But be careful what you wish for. Your self-defense system needs to be strong enough to keep bacteria and viruses from entering your body and multiplying, and to re-establish health when disease does gain a foothold. But your immune response can be too powerful.

When that happens, your immune system can mistake your own tissues for invaders, causing autoimmune illnesses (immune system disorders) like allergies or lupus. So rather than picturing your immune system as a mighty battalion of warriors fending off disease, picture it instead as a 911 dispatcher whose job is to communicate with your body's other watchdog systems, especially the hormones from your endocrine system and the brain chemicals from your nervous system.

What are the functions of the immune system?

The immune system is an intricate network of the thymus, spleen, lymph nodes, white blood cells and antibodies that wards off bacteria and viruses and helps your body cope with any invasion of disease. When that system is weakened, you're not only more susceptible to illnesses and ailments, but also less able to fight them once they get a foothold. From what you eat to where you sleep, simple lifestyle changes can help your body develop defenses that are not too weak, not too strong, but just right.

Top immunity boosters, # 1. Go out and mingle

Your immune system likes it when you spend time with friends. In one study, researchers at the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Meadville, Pa. exposed people to a cold virus and then monitored how many contacts those people had with friends, family, co-workers and members of church and community groups. The more social contacts the people had—and the more diverse the contacts —the less likely they were to catch the cold. Touch is important too: Giving or getting hugs or other forms of touch can boost the activity of the natural killer cells that seek out and destroy cancer cells or cells that have been invaded by viruses.

Top immunity boosters, # 2. Listen to Beethoven (or Britney)

Listening to music can boost your immunity, but it has to be music you love. Something that calms one person might rile another; the trick is finding music that soothes your soul. Scientists at McGill University in Montreal found that listening to music that sent "shivers down the spine" or that gave people chills stimulated the same "feel-good" parts of the brain that are activated by food and sex. Perhaps even better than listening to music is making it, say researchers who found that people who took part in an amateur group-drumming session had greatly enhanced natural killer-cell activity afterward.

Top immunity boosters, # 3. Turn down the volume

Noise hurts more than your ears. Any unwanted and intrusive sound can trigger muscle tension, speed heartbeat, constrict blood vessels and cause digestive upsets —the same response your body has to being startled or stressed. Chronic exposure to noise can lead to even longer-lasting changes in blood pressure, cholesterol levels and immune function. Cornell University research found that women who work in moderately noisy offices produce more of the stress hormone adrenaline and may be more vulnerable to heart disease than women who work in quiet offices. Even worse are unwelcome sounds you perceive as uncontrollable, such as car alarms, barking dogs and P.A. systems. Try to take control over the noise in your environment, even if it means wearing earplugs or asking the restaurant owner or gym manager to turn down the music.

Top immunity boosters, # 4. Look on the bright side

The immune system takes many of its cues from our thoughts and feelings, so try to keep your outlook upbeat. Years ago, Mayo Clinic researchers found that people who were optimists in their youth tended to live 12 years longer than pessimists. A recent study by Anna L. Marsland, Ph.D., R.N., a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, found that people who were negative, moody, nervous and easily stressed had a weaker immune response to a hepatitis vaccination than their more positive peers. Negativity is a personality trait that's difficult to change, but if wearing rose-colored glasses can improve your immunity, why not try on a pair?

Top immunity boosters, # 5. Laugh out loud

While painful emotions like anger and grief can impair health, laughter does the opposite. A real belly laugh increases infection-fighting antibodies and boosts natural killer-cell activity. Even anticipating a humorous encounter can enhance immunity. Laughter also increases circulation, stimulates digestion, lowers blood pressure and reduces muscle tension.

Top immunity boosters, # 6. Use your brain

Certain kinds of thinking may boost immunity. University of California, Berkeley, neuroscientist Marian Diamond, Ph.D., found that playing bridge stimulated women's immune systems. Her research is the first to show a connection between the immune system and the part of the brain that handles planning, memory, initiative, judgment and abstract thinking. Says Diamond: "Any mental activity that uses one or a combination of these intellectual functions might benefit immune activity."

Top immunity boosters, # 7. Stress less

Everyone reacts to stress differently. What overwhelms one person may be a motivating challenge to another. It's not the situation itself that produces negative changes in your immune system; it's how you perceive it. To learn if your reactions may compromise your immunity, answer these questions, "yes" or "no."

When stressed, do you:

* get tension headaches?

* breathe faster?

* notice that your heart beats faster?

* clench your jaw or grind your teeth?

* suffer gastrointestinal symptoms, such as stomach gurgling or diarrhea?

* experience muscle tension, such as hunched shoulders or a stiff neck?

* feel nervous and jittery?

* perspire? Get chills or clammy hands?

* become upset or angry, irritable, impatient?

Lots of "yes" answers may mean you react to stress in harmful ways. You need to learn coping skills and long-term relaxation techniques. For immediate stress relief, sit quietly, taking slow, deep breaths; relax your shoulders and jaw; visualize a peaceful place; or listen to calming music. To boost immunity, try to change your mind-set, too: If you're worried about an upcoming exam or presentation, remind yourself that you generally always do fine.

Top immunity boosters, # 8. Protect yourself from "superbugs"

Lotion up

Bacteria can easily enter dry, cracked skin, so apply body lotion or cream every day.

Lay down a towel at the gym

Bacteria multiply in perspiration and body oil, so put down a barrier before plopping onto a locker room bench or a chair at the swimming pool. Also remember to disinfect the handles of the elliptical machine or treadmill before starting your workout.

Wash your hands after petting Spot

Don't worry, he doesn't breed bacteria, but fur can transport bugs. It's safest to keep pets off the couch and the bed too.

Artical Provided by: Shape Magazine

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