The occasional winter cold is to be expected. The air is dry, the weather sucks and everyone else is sniffling, so at least we're not alone. But now that spring is here (it is, right?!) the last thing we want is to be stuck inside, slurping chicken soup, eating raw garlic and dozing off in between reruns of Melrose Place. So if you're plowing through sick days and are a regular at your local pharmacy, Old Man Winter is no longer a viable excuse — your personal habits may be to blame.
To get the scoop on surprising immunity-busters, we turned to Roshini Raj, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at New York University and author of What the Yuck?: The Freaky and Fabulous Truth About Your Body . Avoid these lifestyle mishaps, and that cold/flu/cough won't stand a chance.
You Miss Workouts
Skipping SoulCycle once in a while isn't the worst thing in the world, but regular workouts should be a top priority. "Exercise slows down the release of stress-related hormones, like cortisol, which can weaken your immunity and make you less able to fight off viruses and bacteria once they get hold of your body." Aim to get the CDC-recommended 150 minutes per week and don't forget that little things like walking and ditching the elevator for the stairs count too.
Your Wine Glass is Always Full
Besides speeding up skin aging and screwing with memory (even when you're sober), sipping on too many cocktails could be the reason you're constantly sniffling. "Drinking too much alcohol can weaken the linings of your mouth and esophagus, making it easier for bacteria and viruses to attack your body. Alcohol also weakens the protective functions of cells and molecules," Raj says. This impairment taxes cells and makes it hard for them to do their jobs, like keeping you bug-free.
You Skip Probiotics
Bacteria can make you sick, but certain kinds can also ward off illness. "To boost your immune system this season, incorporate probiotics, which are good bacteria found in foods such as yogurt and kimchi, into your diet. Probiotics are live organisms that inhabit your gastrointestinal tract. There is good evidence that introducing those friendly bacteria helps maintain a strong immune system, and when they are abundant in your body, it is harder for harmful bacteria to take hold in your system and cause illness," says Raj. According to a recent study published by the British Journal of Nutrition, consuming more good bacteria strengthens intestinal walls, preventing certain pro-inflammatory molecules (linked to glucose intolerance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity) from entering the bloodstream.
Relationships Are On the Back burner
Sure, you might have 1,476 followers on Instagram, but what you need more than strangers liking your #foodporn is real human contact. "Meaningful connections support overall well-being and health, which has a positive effect on immune system, while social isolation increases stress levels and depression risk," says Raj. "It's all about high levels of perceived social connectedness — meaning the number of close friends and family, and the frequency of interactions," she says. The particular mechanism is still being studied, but most experts agree that meaningful relationships reduce the production of cortisol and adrenaline, stress hormones that can wreck havoc on immunity.
You're Misusing Antibiotics
The very remedy that can help you get over a bug can also make you prone to getting sick. "Antibiotics indiscriminately kill bacteria, including the friendly bacteria in your digestive tract that help you fight off infections and diseases. Antibiotics can also impair normal cells functions and destroy healthy flora in your colon. To minimize the negative effect of antibiotics, do not use them to prevent infection or without your doctor's prescription. If you are prescribed an antibiotic, make sure to take the entire course and don't save it for later. Taking probiotic supplements and eating foods rich in good bacteria throughout the course will help protect immune-boosting bacteria in your digestive tract," says Raj.