A Picture of Health

Instruction
Avatar:
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0
Instruction
Healthy Skier 0103 Pic A

Cold and flu season is like a game of roulette: You never know when your number is up. But it doesn't have to be a game of chance. By learning how to boost your immune system, you can stack the deck to ward off winter bugs.

A strong immune system is especially important for skiers because the sport is so physically demanding, says Dr. Keith Berndtson, co-author of The Immune Advantage. This added stress may put your body under more strain than you realize, especially if you ski only a few days each year or, at the other end of the spectrum, if you hit the slopes every week. Also, the effectiveness of your immune system decreases with age, so if you want to ski into your golden years, you'll need to be extra vigilant. The strength of your immune system is in part genetically determined, but you can always give it a boost.

"Lifestyle choices will dictate whether that predisposition manifests itself earlier or later," Berndtson says.

Paying attention to your immune system is important because it has a huge job to do. A complex machine that protects the body against foreign invaders known as antigens, the immune system is made up of different kinds of cells that work together through an elaborate communications network. The cells act somewhat as an army would: They have individual jobs but coordinate against a common target, calling in troops and special forces as needed.

The white blood cells are at the core of the immune system, and these include T cells, B cells and natural killer cells, all of which attack invaders using various techniques. While the immune system is specialized and efficient, "there are simple things you can do to lighten the burden it has to carry," Berndtson says. Here are seven proven tips for strengthening your immune system this winter.

Catch Zzzzzz's
First and foremost, you need sleep. "When you're sleeping, your brain, liver and immune system are sitting down at a strategic planning meeting to mop up what happened in the last day," Berndtson says. Partial sleep deprivation, such as one night of lost sleep, reduces the number of natural killer cells and suppresses their activity, says Mark Opp, a University of Michigan associate professor whose focus of study is sleep and immune function. While individual needs vary, Opp says most of us require 8 to 8 1/2 hours per night. If you're not sure how much sleep is best for you, simply listen to how you feel. "When you're not feeling good or performing well, you're probably not getting enough sleep," Opp says. If you skimp on sleep when you're on a ski vacation, know that sleep deprivation happens quickly-trimming even an hour or two off your ideal amount of sleep for a couple of days can weaken the immune system.

Rub It In
Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, has been studying the effects of massage on the immune system for nearly 20 years, conducting studies on people with breast cancer, leukemia and HIV. "With massage, we found an increase in natural killer cells-the front line of the immune system-and their activity level," Field says. Field has also done studies on generally healthy people and found that massage may have an immune-boosting effect by reducing stress. Field recommends a weekly massage, which can be a perfect way to unwind after skiing. But she also says there are many effective self-massage techniques: Try using a massage ball, massage roller or vibrating massage mat.

[pagebreak]

Eat Garlic
Garlic is loaded with antiviral and antibacterial properties to fight off colds and flu and has been found to stimulate T cell activity. Some experts say that cooked garlic and supplements are OK, but that the raw stuff is better. "Raw garlic is as good as it gets," says James Duke, author of 28 books, including The Green Pharmacy. When you feel a cold coming on, Duke suggests mixing a couple of garlic cloves and few stalks of celery in the blender and drinking it like a juice. While it may not be an especially delicious après-ski drink, Duke insists it's much blander than you'd think.

Ease Up
A number of studies indicate stress is the chief enemy to a strong immune system. When the body is under stress, it releases a hormone called cortisol, which raises your heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, this can wear down the immune system by decreasing the effectiveness of natural killer cells and T cells. Fortunately, it's easy to reverse the pattern by learning to relax. In studies done on people who were sick or undergoing surgical procedures, relaxation techniques helped speed their recovery, cut days off their hospital stay and reduced the amount of painkillers needed. The trick is to find something you like to do: garden, meditate, play a musical instrument, do yoga or listen to music.

Think Positive
Berndtson believes that keeping a positive attitude is as important to having a strong immune system as sleep, exercise and diet. "Your mind has to send a signal to your body that you're worth fighting for," he says. He's not alone. There's a well-established understanding in the field of mind/body medicine that what you think and how you feel affects your health and immune system. This may be because pessimists are more likely than optimists to experience events as stressful, says Suzanne C. Segerstrom, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. For evidence, she points to work done with HIV-positive men. Those who are optimistic maintain immune function longer, develop symptoms later and on average live twice as long after being diagnosed with AIDS as men with negative attitudes.

Sweat It Out
Studies indicate that regular, moderate exercise increases immune function, making you less susceptible to colds and even certain kinds of cancer. Exercise works by increasing the number of natural killer cells in the blood. Your killer-cell count usually returns to normal after exercise. But if you make working out a habit, over time you can actually increase your resting level of killer cells, which will help keep you healthy. On the flip side, there's evidence that if you exercise too hard (if you compete in a marathon, for example), your immune system can be depressed. Moderation is key, experts say. Get 30 to 45 minutes of exercise three to five times per week.

Eat Smart
Experts agree that a healthy diet is vital for a strong immune system. At the top of the list of immune-supporting nutrients is protein, which helps replenish white blood cells. Aim to include some protein in each of your meals. Experts vary in their exact recommendations, but according to Leslie Bonci, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, your daily total intake of protein (in grams) should be roughly half of your body weight. For instance, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should get about 75 grams of protein per day. It's also wise to limit sugary and fatty foods, such as cookies and chips, as these can contribute to the formation of free radicals-unstable molecules that damage cell structure and can lead to illness. To reduce your fat and sugar intake, eat more whole foods, such as fish, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. Some experts also recommend taking a daily antioxidant supplement with vitamins A and C and selenium to fight free radicals and stay healthy.

[pagebreak]

Health Hit
Adults average two to four colds each year, and kids three times as many. With most colds hitting in winter, that can mean a lot of missed ski days.

Bouncing Back
If despite your best efforts, a bug breaks through your defenses, here's how to tell whether you're ready to return to the slopes.

More Tips

  • Use the "Neck Rule": If symptoms are below the neck-wheezing, mucus-producing coughs, nausea, body aches-you need more recovery time. But if you're without a fever and only have symptoms from the neck up, like scratchy throat, runny nose and sneezing, you're probably ready for moderate activity. Regardless of your symptoms, don't rush back into strenuous exercise. Once you're feeling better, take three days for every day you were sick to return to your previous intensity.

    Stay hydrated. It helps clear the lungs and also helps eliminate virus particles through frequent urination.

    Take multivitamins and temporary high doses (1,000-2,000 milligrams) of vitamin C. Consider herbal "cold buster" remedies such as echinacea, which can increase the production of immunity-boosting T cells.

  • Cold and dry air can trigger coughing spasms. When skiing, try to breathe through your nose to warm and moisturize incoming air.

g coughs, nausea, body aches-you need more recovery time. But if you're without a fever and only have symptoms from the neck up, like scratchy throat, runny nose and sneezing, you're probably ready for moderate activity. Regardless of your symptoms, don't rush back into strenuous exercise. Once you're feeling better, take three days for every day you were sick to return to your previous intensity.

Cold and dry air can trigger coughing spasms. When skiing, try to breathe through your nose to warm and moisturize incoming air.

Stay hydrated. It helps clear the lungs and also helps eliminate virus particles through frequent urination.

Take multivitamins and temporary high doses (1,000-2,000 milligrams) of vitamin C. Consider herbal "cold buster" remedies such as echinacea, which can increase the production of immunity-boosting T cells.