Protecting the immune system and managing stress are vital aspects of living longer, feeling younger, and being healthy. Here are 10 ways to reduce stress, boost your immune system, and slow down the hands of time.
Physical activity. Regular exercise -- whether it's walking or dancing -- strengthens your cardiovascular system, heart, muscles, and bones. It also stimulates the release of endorphins, improves mental functioning, concentration/attention, and cognitive performance, and lowers cholesterol, blood pressure, cortisol, and other stress hormones.
Yoga and stretching. The slow movements and controlled postures of yoga improve muscle strength, flexibility, balance, circulation, mental focus, and calmness.
Hand hygiene. The most effective measure in preventing the spread of germs is good hand hygiene. Washing your hands as soon as you come home, and always before you eat, greatly reduces your exposure to bacterial and viral infections. Carry alcohol-based hand wipes to control exposures away from home.
Laughter and humor. There is truth to the saying that laughter is the best medicine. Laughing reduces stress hormones like adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol and benefits the immune system.
High nutrient diet. Eat foods rich in antioxidants (strawberries, oranges, tomatoes), omega-3 fatty acids (walnuts, salmon, soybeans), and folate (dark green, leafy vegetables). Antioxidants neutralize molecules that can cause heart disease, cancer, and premature aging. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular-enhancing, and immune-regulating properties. Folate prevents age-related cognitive decline, ensures DNA integrity (important during pregnancy), and promotes healthy red blood cells.
Music. Listening to your favorite music is a great method of reducing stress and relieving anxiety.
Sleep. Sound sleep has a profound impact on stress levels, immune function, and disease resistance. Your body and immune system do most of their repairs during sleep, so strive to get in seven to eight hours each night.
Positive thinking. Optimism can counteract the negative impact stress, tension, and anxiety have on your immune system and well-being. Often it is how you perceive things that determine if you get overwhelmed, both mentally and physically.
Tea. Regularly drinking green and black teas throughout the day can help strengthen your immune system and your body's ability to fight off germs and infections.
Hydrotherapy. Relaxing in a hot bath relieves sormuscles and joints, reduces stress and tension, and promotes sleep. Add music, soft lighting, and scented oils to create a spa experience in the privacy of your own home.
By Monique N. Gilbert
Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, April/May 2005. Copyright 2005. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
Monique N. Gilbert, B.Sc., is a health, nutrition and lifestyle coach, certified personal trainer/fitness counselor, and author of Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook. She has offered guidance in natural health, nutrition, fitness, and stress management since 1989. Contact her at www.moniquengilbert.com.