Getting sick is always a concern this time of year, with cold and flu strains running rampant. In addition to your normal regimen of doubling up on vitamin C, we’ve rounded up 11 surprising ways you can sidestep sniffles, coughs, and achoos by bolstering your body’s natural defenses. Read on to find out more.
1. Cozy Up With a Bestseller
Carve out time to enjoy that new romance novel you’ve been eyeing, and your immune system will thank you. Spanish scientists report that stress reduces the body’s production of virus-fighting T cells, making you twice as likely to catch a cold or flu. But researchers at the UK’s University of Sussex report that just six minutes of reading can reduce stress by 68 percent, allowing your immune system to work its magic.
2. Move to the Music
Singing along or tapping to the beat of your favorite song significantly curbs the production of the stress hormone cortisol, helping your body to produce more virus-fighting antibodies than it would while listening to music without movement, say scientists at Oregon’s Willamette University.
3. Keep Feet Toasty
To ward off winter bugs, keep your feet warm during the day and don wool socks while you sleep. A study out of the UK’s University of Cardiff found that keeping your tootsies toasty reduces your risk of getting sick by 10 percent. When your feet are cold, blood vessels throughout the body tighten, making it difficult for white blood cells to travel to membranes in your nose and throat, where they’re needed to fend off viruses. Staying warm allows white blood cells to surge to these sites, preserving your health.
4. Get Out There and Socialize
Think steering clear of folks this time of year reduces your chance of catching a cold? Surprise — the opposite is true! Investigators at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh report that your risk of falling ill drops by nearly 50 percent when you spend time with a wide range of people by, say, hosting a potluck or attending an arts-and-crafts fair. Researchers theorize that increasing your exposure to more types of germs is like exercise for your immune system, making it stronger at resisting infection.
5. Bake a Pie
Enjoying small pleasures, such as making a freshly-baked apple pie with your love ones, increases the production of a unique antibody called secretory immunoglobulin A inside the mouth and nose, say scientists at Stony Brook University in New York. This thwarts pesky viral invaders at their point of entry.
6. Knit a Scarf
You’ll boost your chances of staying sniffle-free by doing activities that give your life meaning, such as joining a knitting group or volunteering at an animal shelter, say UCLA scientists. Feeling a deeper sense of purpose turns on genes that help produce more antivirals and antibodies, making the immune system better at fending off viruses.
7. Remind Yourself What It’s Like to Be Sick
As wacky as it may sound, Canadian scientists say spending 10 minutes looking at pictures of folks who are under the weather (like those you’d see in cold medicine ads) activates the genes that produce proteins to energize immune cells, helping to strongly defend against invading viruses.
8. Watch a Frightful Flick
Short bouts of fun tension, such as watching a scary movie, can improve your immune response, say Stanford University scientists. The temporary rise in the body’s “fight-or-flight” hormones tells immune cells to move quickly into the bloodstream, where they spread throughout the body, protecting you from illness-causing pathogens.
9. Play a Game of Scrabble
Your body sees even friendly competition, like you’d experience during a board game, as something it might have to defend itself against, a UCLA study shows, making immune your cells more active.
10. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth
Eating a few squares of dark chocolate daily makes you 33 percent less likely to get sick, plus it reduces the length of your cold by 40 percent if you fall ill, Australian scientists say. Dark chocolate is rich in plant compounds that can block the replication of viruses in your system.
11. Express Yourself Creatively
Channeling your inner artist boosts the body’s ability to prevent viruses from spreading, say scientists at Philadelphia’s Drexel University.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.