10 Ways You’re Unknowingly Sabotaging Your Immune System
Sure, germs can make you sick, but it’s also how your body responds to them. Our experts say these simple habits can put your health at risk—here’s what to watch out for.
You forget that germs are everywhere
As much as possible, avoid touching surfaces that might be contaminated with viruses or bacteria, recommends Helen Ewing, PhD, dean of nursing at Carrington College in Mesa, AZ. She points out that heavy use surfaces include elevator buttons, grocery cart handles, cell phones, and gas pumps. Areas where you’re more likely to be exposed include public restrooms, public transportation, fitness centers, and schools. “Essentially anywhere there are large groups of people who may spread infections,” she says. As much as possible, wear gloves when in public settings. Make sure you’re up-to-date on your flu knowledge with this information.
You don’t wash your hands frequently
Because viruses and bacteria can linger everywhere, you have to be vigilant about keeping your hands clean, warns Dr. Ewing. Washing your hands frequently with soap and water is the best technique, but if washing facilities are not available, a hand sanitizer like Purell can work. Just make sure you aren’t committing any of these common hand-washing mistakes.
You fail to take caution while traveling
Airplanes and hotels challenge your immunity because you’re exposed to more pollutants and infectious organisms. Bring sanitizing wipes to clean tray tables, seats, and armrests on airplanes. According to an article in Conde Nast Traveler, the remote control, desk, and phone in hotel rooms can expose you to germs. The article recommends alcohol wipes for these surfaces and regular hand washing to help reduce your risk of getting sick. And try these 10 habits doctors use to avoid the cold and flu.
You overuse antibiotics
Say it with us: Antibiotics are for bacteria, and they won’t work against colds or flu. “Taking antibiotics when not needed can negatively affect the immune system,” says Dr. Ewing. When antibiotics destroy good bacteria, they can leave your immunity compromised. “Research has shown that individuals who take antibiotics for chronic infections are at a greater risk for a weakened immune system.”
You drink too much
Downing a lot of wine or other alcohol can impair your immune system by interfering with the bone marrow’s production of white blood cells, says Dr. Ewing. “The white blood cells protect the body against both infectious disease and foreign invaders,” she says. Here are 17 simple ways you can cut back on drinking.
You’re not socializing enough
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Although avoiding potentially sick people may seem like a good idea, being isolated is hard on your immunity, says Dr. Ewing. “People who are lonely for extended periods tend to have a higher risk of disease and changes to the immune system over time,” she explains.
You need to drink more water
Your immune system is at risk when your body runs low on fluids, says Michelle Robin, DC, a wellness practitioner and chiropractor in Kansas. Water helps the blood transport oxygen to immune cells to keep them functioning at their best, explains Robin. “Water also helps the kidneys and liver clear waste and toxins out of the body,” she explains Check out these 13 genius ways to drink more water.
You drink sweet stuff
Because of all the sugar, soda and juice don’t have the benefits of water, says Robin. If you get bored with water, try adding a few slices of lemon, lime, or cucumber,” she advises. Here are some more reasons to stick with water and avoid soda.
You’re not sleeping well
According to an article from the Mayo Clinic, research indicates that people who don’t get quality sleep—or fail to get seven to eight hours a night—have a weakened immune system and are more likely to get sick. “Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Your body needs sleep to fight infectious diseases. Long-term lack of sleep also increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease.” Use these sleep tips from doctors to get better rest.
You’re not managing stress
“Chronic stress can also alter the body’s chemistry, which weakens the immune system,” warns Dr. Ewing. Got some strange symptoms? Check out these eight silent signs that stress is making you sick.