9 Habits That Hurt Your Immune System
Holding Your Emotions In
A constructive argument with your spouse can actually increase immunity, say UCLA researchers.
They asked 41 happy couples to discuss a problem in their marriage for 15 minutes. The researchers detected surges in blood pressure, heart rate, and immune-related white blood cells, all of which were similar to the benefits seen with moderate exercise. But you still have to play nice: Couples who frequently use sarcasm, insults, and put-downs have fewer virus-fighting natural killer cells, have higher levels of stress hormones, and take up to 40% longer to recover from injuries than those who manage to stay positive and affectionate during their quarrels.
What to do: Don’t keep what’s bothering you bottled up. People with type D personalies—those who keep their opinions and emotions hidden—have killer T cells that are less active than those found in more expressive peers.
Stressing Out Too Much
Chronic stress—the day-after-day kind you experience over job insecurity or a sick relative—takes a toll on many aspects of your health, including immunity.
There is compelling scientific evidence that this kind of stress (as opposed to the every-now-and-again kind from a bad day at work or a screaming match with your kid) causes a measurable decline in the immune system’s ability to fight disease. Periods of extreme stress can result in a lower natural killer cell count, sluggish killer T cells, and diminished macrophage activity that can amplify the immune response. In fact, widows and widowers are much more likely to get sick during the first year after their spouse dies than their peers who have not experienced a major loss.
What to do: Do more of the things that help you relax. Take a hot bath, run on the treadmill, take a relaxing yoga class, or bake a dessert. The important thing is that you unwind and recover from stress, since it’s often hard to avoid in the first place.
Not Having A Pen With You
That’s right, having your own supply of pens might just keep you from picking up a virus. Cold and flu germs are easily passed through hand-to-hand contact, says Neil Schachter, MD, a professor of pulmonary medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and author of The Good Doctor’s Guide to Colds and Flu. Any way you can avoid touching public objects—such as the communal pen at the bank—will cut your risk.
What to do: “When you get up in the morning, don’t leave the house without a pen in your pocket or your purse,” Schachter suggests. “Take your own wherever you go, and use it instead of the doctor’s, the delivery guy’s, or the restaurant waiter’s.”
Not Exercising Enough
One in four American women doesn’t exercise at all—and that’s an easy way to set yourself up for sickness.
When researchers compared inactive people with those who walked briskly almost every day, they found that who didn’t walk took twice as many sick days in 4 months as those who strolled regularly.
What to do: Experts say that it takes a 30 minutes of aerobic exercise—a brisk walk counts—to sweep white blood cells back into circulation, making your immune system run more smoothly.
We don’t need to tell you that puffing ciggies is terrible for the entire body. But the secondhand kind is almost as harmful.
Not Laughing Enough
Researchers have found that the positive emotions associated with laughter decrease stress hormones and increase certain immune cells while activating others. In a study conducted at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, healthy adults who watched a funny video for an hour had significant increases in immune system activity.
What to do: Let yourself laugh more! Watch your favorite comedies, have lunch with a pal known for their funny bone, and actually read those silly email jokes from friends.