9 Innocent Habits That Might Be Ruining Your Immune System

Updated: May 08, 2018

Your habits could leave you vulnerable to disease. Here are the ones to avoid.


You don’t get enough sleep

While you’re asleep, your body ramps up the part of your immune system that learns the best ways to attack new bacteria, viruses, and other triggers. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, though, your body doesn’t have the chance to fight diseases as effectively, according to a study in European physiology journal Pflugers Archiv. Just six days of restricted sleep could prevent your body from using a vaccination effectively, and other studies have shown lack of sleep makes it harder to kick a cold. Aim for seven or eight hours a night to keep your immune system at its prime. Here, sleep doctors debunk sleep myths you still believe.


You sit all day

Lack of exercise could make you sicker longer. Upper respiratory tract infections lasted 42 percent longer in volunteers who worked out once a week or less than in those who did aerobic exercises five or more times a week, according to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The sedentary participants also had more severe symptoms. Squeeze in moderate exercise every day, like taking a quick walk during your lunch hour. Here’s more on how to recover from a day of sitting.


You feel lonely

Loneliness puts your body into fight or flight mode, according to research in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The five-year study found that when people felt lonely, the hormone norepinephrine was higher. During crises, norepinephrine boosts production of the white blood cells that fight wounds. But in the process, it shuts down the virus-fighting part of your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to disease. If you’re feeling down, don’t wallow alone on the couch—ask a friend out for coffee or call a loved one for some support. Don’t miss these little ways to reconnect when you’re lonely.


You’re ALWAYS stressed

The pressure to hit a single deadline on time won’t cause major damage, but if you let your job stress you out even after office hours, you could be setting yourself up for sickness. Stress from a specific event has mixed results for your immune system—it puts your body’s defenses up before infections or wounds, but could also cause inflammation—while chronic stress could wreak havoc on immunity. For instance, people going through long-term stressful experiences are at higher risk of developing a cold than those without an ongoing stressor, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read these tips to de-stress your workday.


You eat the wrong fats

Saturated fats kick your immune system into overdrive, causing inflammation. On the other hand, unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and help control some of the proteins that help your body recognize pathogens, according to a study in Nutrition Journal. Swap out a meal of saturated fat-heavy beef for salmon or tuna, which are rich in omega-3s, or cook with canola oil instead of butter. Check out these clear signs you need more healthy fats.


You take antibiotics at the first sign of a sore throat

Antibiotics disrupt the dialogue between your immune system and the bacteria—good and bad—in your body. Mice studies have shown that antibiotics can reduce certain disease-fighting white blood cells and the molecules that signal immune-boosting proteins to kick into gear, according to a report in The American Journal of Human Genetics. Your body might kick a disease faster while you’re taking the medication, but once your prescription is over, your immune system will be even more vulnerable. When possible, you might want to let your body fight a disease by itself before you ask your doctor for medication. Always ask your doctor these key questions before taking antibiotics.


Your partner’s immune system is lousy

If your partner doesn’t have a great immune system, you could end up suffering too. A study in Nature Immunology found parents who lived together had 50 percent less variation between each other’s immune systems than with a similar person in the larger population. The authors conclude that people who live together have the same environment and adopt similar habits.


You drink—a lot

Alcohol suppresses the immune system. Chronic drinking makes your white blood cells less effective at attacking harmful bacteria and makes your body less able to produce the cells that identify and kill bacteria and viruses. Even a full day after being drunk, your body will be weaker in its fight against infections, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Here are other health boosts that can happen if you stop drinking alcohol.


You’re overweight

A healthy weight won’t just make you feel fit, but also will protect you from disease. Obesity is a type of malnutrition in excess, and it can alter the number of white blood cells in your body. Belly fat and the fat around your organs affect your immune system more than total body fat does, according to a report in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest