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How to boost your immune system during cold and flu season

By gee mong,

How to boost your immune system during cold and flu season

As the end of the year approaches, we're faced with the start of flu and cold season.

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According to Dr. Helen Chu, an epidemiologist and infectious-disease physician at the University of Washington School of Public Health, it’s a myth that simply being cold will make you more likely to get sick. But viruses do tend to transmit most efficiently in drier, colder conditions, leading to spikes in winter months as the year ends. So now is the time to get serious about immune health.

Here are four things health experts say you can do to prepare ahead of fall and winter surges.

Exercise is a great way to bolster your health and reduce your susceptibility to disease, said David Nieman, a professor of biology at Appalachian State University who researches exercise, nutrition and immunology. In one study published in 2011, Dr. Nieman and his colleagues followed more than 1,000 adults living in North Carolina for three months in 2008. They logged their lifestyle habits — including diet, exercise and exposure to stressful events — as well as how often they were sick with upper respiratory tract infections, such as common colds or laryngitis, and the severity of their symptoms.

“The No. 1 lifestyle factor that emerged was physical activity,” Dr. Nieman said. Those who exercised five or more days per week were 43 per cent less likely to be sick with an upper respiratory tract infection than those who exercised for less than one day per week. But even those who did a little bit of exercise — at least 20 minutes of moderate exercise (as simple as a brisk walk) at least one day per week — were better off than those who did none.

Too much exercise, though, can tax the body and temporarily suppress the immune system, Dr. Nieman said, increasing your risk of infections. There’s no simple formula for what constitutes too much exercise, the experts said, but if you’re suddenly feeling unwell or constantly tired, or if previously easy workouts are feeling hard, it might be a signal that you need to slow down.

Research has also shown that not getting enough sleep, or sleep of good quality, can reduce your body’s capability for fighting off infections, said Kathi Heffner, a professor of nursing, medicine and psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center. While not everyone requires the same amount of sleep, the general guidance for adults is six to eight hours each night, Dr. Heffner said.

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