The year is winding down, which means we can start looking ahead to 2019 and all that is in store. Before we jump ahead though, we may have a few holiday parties, vacations, and New Year’s celebrations to attend. While gearing up for all this holiday fun, it is important to remember that taking care of your body during this time is crucial. Oftentimes during the last few weeks of the year, we stay up later with family, indulge in decadent foods and beverages, and may spend a bit less time in the gym. We encourage you to really focus on your immunity this month, and take steps to give it a quick boost before the New Year rolls around.
The health of our immune system is greatly influenced by our daily thoughts and activities. How much sleep we do or do not get, how much exercise we get, and how much alcohol we consume all significantly impacts immune function. Let’s take a look below at some areas we can focus on, to improve our immunity.
Sleep and Immunity
Sleep is essential for the proper functioning and the immune system. Sleep-deprived individuals have decreased natural killer cell activity and decreased cellular immunity. Even a few nights of sleep deprivation can disrupt immune function. A pattern of insufficient and poor quality sleep impairs nighttime secretion of cytokines, the messenger molecules that trigger a cell-killing attack by T-cells and natural killer cells.
Sleeping stimulates the secretion of melatonin, a hormone released by the pineal gland. In addition to supporting deep sleep, melatonin also supports immune function. Melatonin has a number of critical immune-enhancing functions:
- Acts as a free radical scavenger and antioxidant
- Protects cells
- Modulates immune activity
- Decreases cancer cell growth
If you’re finding it hard to get a good night’s rest, there are a few things you can try. First, it’s helpful to try and go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This routine helps set your body’s internal clock and optimizes the quality of your sleep. Try choosing a bed time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t try to sleep too early and toss and turn all night. Another helpful tip is to avoid sleeping in (as crazy at that sounds). The more your sleep routine differs from the norm, the worse jet-lag like symptoms you may feel. If you must catch up on sleep, try taking a daytime nap instead. In that vein, when napping, try to avoid naps for longer than 30 minutes, then you may feel groggier and also have trouble sleeping later.
Exercise and Immunity
Daily physical activity is linked with increased immune activity. Exercising for 30 to 60 minutes daily will improve immune response and overall conditioning over time. For instance, highly conditioned elderly women have superior natural killer and T-cell function when compared with their sedentary counterparts.
Exercise should include both aerobic (walking, jogging, swimming) and anaerobic (weight lifting, pilates) activities. Exercise should always be followed with gentle stretching to maintain flexibility and prevent injury.
If you find it hard to get a workout in, or have trouble finding the motivation, try these tips. First of all, ditch the “all-or-nothing” attitude. Contrary to what you may think, you do not have to spend hours in the gym to get a decent workout. A little exercise is better than nothing, even if that means a 10 minute walk in your neighborhood. Adding even a modest amount of physical activity to your weekly routine can have a big impact on your mental and emotional well-being. Another helpful tip is to manage your expectations. You didn’t get out of shape overnight, so you can’t expect to transform your body in a day. Expecting too much too quickly leads to frustration. So instead of focusing on quick results, focus on consistency, and you will get your desired results over time.
Alcohol and Immunity
Alcohol abusers have suppressed cellular immune function. In fact, one of the least appreciated medical complications of alcohol abuse is immune impairment. Alcoholics are more likely to develop bacterial pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases.
Moderate drinkers do not seem to sustain direct harm to their immune function. Consuming fewer than two drinks daily for men and one drink daily for women appears to be compatible with healthy immune function.
If you’re looking for ways to dial down the drinking, check this out. Try designating “abstinence” days. You might decide that Mondays and Wednesdays are “no alcohol” days. Also, try keeping alcohol out of the house if possible. The old “out of sight, out of mind,” adage can really be helpful here. If this is unrealistic, maybe try to put some distance between you and the alcohol, and place it on a tall shelf. One last tip, is to eat while you drink. Eating while drinking can help slow the absorption of alcohol, and can also make you feel more full.
Taking steps now to strengthen your immune system will pay off well into the New Year. Let’s get started today!