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Destress Your Immune System

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Stress is a natural part of life to some degree or another and can even serve a positive purpose, helping you rise to the occasion or challenge to try new things. Your immune system is your most viable defense in fighting sickness and disease. However, if stress is left unaddressed or mismanaged, it can take a serious toll on your body’s ability to fend itself adequately. Taking the appropriate steps to manage stress and support a strong immune system is of upmost importance in protecting and maintaining optimal health.

Cooper Clinic Chief Medical Officer and preventive medicine physician Michele A. Kettles, MD, MSPH, discusses how integrating the following top 10 healthy habits can aid in keeping your immune system strong. 

1. Get enough sleep.

Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Your body never completely recovers from sleep deprivation, making “catching up” on sleep over the weekends insufficient for optimal health.

2. Practice consistent hygiene.

“Washing your hands can be easy; avoiding touching your face can be the tricky part!” says Dr. Kettles. She explains practicing this habit diligently and often is one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect your immune system’s health.

3. Keep up with your vaccinations.

Almost everyone of at least six months of age should get an annual flu vaccine. If you are 50 and older or have underlying lung or heart disease, it is strongly recommended to get a pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine as well. “If you are under 65, I advise getting the Prevnar 13 (PCV13) vaccine,” says Dr. Kettles. “If you are 65 or older, I highly suggest the Pneumovax (PPSV23) vaccine.” These specific immunizations prevent bacterial pneumonia from developing, which individuals become more susceptible to once they contract a viral illness.

4. Do not use tobacco. 

All tobacco products, not just cigarettes, can threaten your health. Tobacco is associated with a number of cancers, including esophageal, cervical, stomach, kidney, pancreatic and more. On top of that, tobacco is the number one preventable cause of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in America.

5. Make healthy food choices most of the time.

“There is no single food or diet that boosts your immune system,” says Dr. Kettles. “You must engage in a pattern of healthy eating, enjoying a wide variety of foods in your diet.” Dr. Kettles encourages eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in order to fuel your body for optimal health.

6. Exercise most days of the week.

Participate in moderate physical activity a collective 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Practice “joyful movement” by engaging in activities you love or that get you out of the house for fresh air—staying within social distancing guidelines, of course!

7. Maintain a healthy weight.

Maintaining a healthy weight requires a combination of good nutrition and consistent exercise. It is one of the most important things you can do to prevent illness and disease, enjoy a better quality of life and live longer.

8. Control your alcohol intake.

Among other things, excessive alcohol can cause weight gain, damage your liver and heart and increase the risk of developing some types of cancer. If you don’t drink, don’t start. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption. Nonetheless, if you do enjoy alcohol, remember moderation is key—limit yourself to no more than one drink a day.

9. Take time to recharge.

Taking time to relax should not be a luxury! It’s important to find something that works for you and helps you find balance in your life. Think about what recharges your batteries. Whether you love yoga, reading a book, going for a walk or socializing virtually with others, these activities can be key to better mental health.

 10. Breathe.

This simple practice can produce a plethora of health benefits. Even a short one-minute deep breathing exercise can help lower your heart rate, increase focus and elicit the body’s natural relaxation response. Set a reminder on your phone or watch to prompt you to practice deep breathing several times a day.

Acute stress can be healthy and challenge us to grow. By taking the appropriate steps to manage chronic stress through a healthy lifestyle, you are able to simultaneously boost and protect your immune system. When you take care of your immune system in times of stress, it will return the favor.

For more information about Cooper Clinic, visit or call 972.560.2667.