Stave off stomach bugs and winter colds with these alternative activities to strengthen your immune system that are way better than popping Emergen-C

By Sara Angle

Are you one of those people that always gets sick? You may chalk it up to bad luck, but new research from Stanford University found that environment, rather than genetics, plays a predominant role in determining how well your immune system functions. Researchers looked at blood samples of over 100 sets of identical and fraternal twins to track more than 200 immune system components and activities, and they discovered that three-quarters of the differences between pairs were due to non-inheritable traits. That means keeping your immune system in tip-top condition is entirely up to you. Read on for tips to stave off winter colds and bugs. (See how you can Fight the Flu with Exercise, too.)


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When you're stressed, your body releases more cortisol, which suppresses immune cells. When the stressor is removed, cortisol levels drop, which could cause an inflammatory response. You may not always be able to prevent situations that cause stress, but try to work in extra de-stressing activities, like reading a book or spending time with friends, at times you feel under the gun.

Laugh More

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Those cat videos? Totally good for you. People who laughed out loud at least once while watching a funny video saw a 50 to 100 percent increase in their baseline natural killer cell activity, the cells primed to kill viruses, one study found. Buy tickets to a local stand-up comedy show, check out the movie with the funniest reviews, or plan a coffee date with your goofball friend and your body will thank you!


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Mindfulness meditation can lead to greater activation in the left anterior side of the brain, a part associated with having a positive affect on the immune system, according to a study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. In the experiment, participants who meditated for eight weeks showed an increased immune response to the flu shot. Specifically, transcendental meditation-which uses repetition of mantras-can increase natural killer cells, a second study found. (Check out Your Brain On: Meditation)

Eat Micronutrient-Rich Foods

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While there are no magic, cure-all foods to prevent getting sick, there is some evidence that micronutrient deficiencies can alter immune responses, notes a Harvard Health report. Deficiencies in zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E could all effect your immunity. Most of these can be found in the foods you eat, like veggies and whole grains, but if you're eating many processed foods and ordering take-out, you may not be getting all the micronutrients you need. Don't overdo it on vitamins to make up for poor eating, but a daily multivitamin won't hurt. (How about drinking? Ask the Diet Doctor: Alcohol and Immunity).

Get a Massage

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As if you needed an excuse for a massage! A 45-minute rub down supports pathogen-fighting white blood cells and reduces inflammatory proteins, which have been connected to autoimmune diseases, showed one study. Further research found that the best time to get that immune-boosting massage is actually after a tough workout. A great combo, since you already know the staying powers exercise can have on your health.



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