Your Best Health
The secret to lifelong health is simple: a strong, firing-on-all-cylinders immune system. And, strengthening it is within your control. If you choose to take care of it every day, your immune system will reward you a thousand times over, improving your odds against everything from heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis, to allergies, colds, and late-winter flu. Start today by adopting any one (or all) of these 20 habits.
1. GET YOUR SLEEP. In our busy lives, sleep is often the first thing we sacrifice. But to keep your complex immune system in peak working condition, you need to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, says Mark Liponis, M.D., medical director of Canyon Ranch Health Resorts and author of Ultralongevity (Little, Brown & Company, 2007). Studies have shown that even minor sleep deprivation can cause an inflammatory effect in the body. Inflammation upsets the balance in all of your body’s major systems (digestive, cardiovascular, and central-nervous) and can set the stage for any of several diseases, including heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and depression.
2. STAY IN SHAPE. Get at least 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise every day to strengthen your body’s antibody and T-cell response, advises Liponis. Those who don’t exercise have been found to have higher levels of C-reactive protein in their blood—a sure indicator that the immune system is working overtime.
3. FLOSS YOUR TEETH. It’s so simple but so important: The bacteria that causes gum disease also appears to trigger a dangerous immune response of inflammation throughout the body. Floss at least once a day to clear that bacteria and it could protect you from both heart disease and cancer, and may add 6.4 years to your life, says Michael F. Roizen, M.D., author of The RealAge Makeover (Collins Living, 2004).
4. Swear off sugar. Sugar has a dampening effect on white blood cells, so avoid foods and drinks that list sugar, cane juice, or sucrose as one of the first three ingredients. Replace sugary snacks with fruit-juice-sweetened products, and processed sugar with agave nectar or honey.
5. Get a massage. Treat yourself to a professional massage on a regular basis. Research has shown that a 30-minute massage at least once a week raised the number of natural killer and other immune cells in breast cancer patients. Another pilot study found that even a single 60- minute massage raised levels of a key antibody in healthy women.
6. Meditate. Practice mindfulness meditation for at least 20 minutes each day. Sit quietly, focus on slowing your breath, and bring your mind back to your breathing whenever you feel distracted. In 2003, University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers found that healthy people who participated in an eightweek course in mindfulness meditation produced significantly more antibodies in response to a flu vaccine than a control group.
7. Try acupuncture. Go for a session of acupuncture once a week for three to six months, suggests Fred Lisanti, N.D., L.Ac., who practices Classical Chinese Medicine in Eastchester, N.Y. A 2007 study showed acupuncture stimulates activity in the body’s “natural killer” cells.