Unless you just spent the last five years on Mars, you already know that eating broccoli, quitting smoking and avoiding stress will boost your immune system. But did you know that fighting with your spouse and eating steak could boost your immune system, too?
Find out more about five unusual ways to boost your immune system:
Have more sex
If you’re motto is “Not tonight, Dear, I have a headache,” you may be missing out on a good chance to boost your immune system (not to mention your relationship). Sexual activity even once or twice a week can increase the levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA), an antibody that helps ward off cold viruses and other infections. A study at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania compared saliva samples of students who reported different levels of sexual activity. Students who had sex once or twice a week had higher levels of IgA than students who had sex less than once a week. Before your spouse gets too excited, the study found that too much sex could be counterproductive to boosting your immune system: students who had sex three times a week or more had lower levels of IgA than those who had sex just once or twice a week.
Eat more beef
If you’re already eating enough carrots to feed a cageful of rabbits, why not try eating more beef? We’re not talking a fat-marbled 16-ounce fillet mignon steak. A nice three- to four-ounce portion of lean beef is a great source of zinc, a mineral that helps build white blood cells and increases the number of killer cells that fight against cancer. If you don’t like red meat, try poultry, pork, dairy products or even oysters to get more immune boosting zinc into your diet. Better yet, sprinkle some mushrooms sauted with anti-oxidant rich garlic on top of your steak or other zinc-rich foods to reduce the amount of free radicals in your blood stream and boost your immune system.
Add a dash of stress
We all know that stress weakens the immune system, right? Maybe not. While chronic stress over a long period of time may suppress your immune system, short-term stress may actually improve your immune response. According to Dr. Firdaus S. Dhabhar, the body’s instinctive response to stress is “the most under-appreciated of nature’s survival mechanisms.” The Ohio State University professor believes the so-called “flight or fight” stress response, which prepares the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems for physical challenges, helps the immune system respond to challenges as well. Thus, short bursts of stress, or acute stress, could actually strengthen your immune response.
Remember Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s verbal warfare in the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The couple’s incessant mean-spirited bickering would likely stress out even the most mellow of goldfish. A National Institute of Health (NIH) funded study found that couples who fight more reasonably and respectfully create fewer stress-related proteins called cytokines that weaken the immune system than those whose fights were less civil. Researchers interviewed couples and then observed them as they discussed a problem about which they had dramatically conflicting views. Husbands in couples in which wives used more rational language–words such as “reason,” “because” and “think–had lower levels of the immune suppressing cytokines than those whose wives used more emotionally charged language. Another study found people whose spouses belittled each other with sarcasm and insults when fighting had weaker immune systems and took up to 40% longer to heal from injuries after a marital spat.
When it comes to the immune boosting benefits of exercise, less is more. Sure, all those triathletes and marathon runners may look healthy, but too much exercise can reduce immune system function in the short-term. Moderate exercise (including household chores, such as vacuuming) boosts the immune system by increasing the production of cells called macrophages that fight bacteria and quicken the flow of immune cells through the body. Recreational runners and walkers report fewer colds and call in sick to work less often after starting a moderate exercise routine, studies reveal. The key word is moderate. Too much exercise can lower immune response, making one more likely to get sick up to 72 hours after each period of intense training. Rigorous exercise regimens increase levels of cortisol and adrenalin, two hormones that temporarily weaken the body’s immune system.