By Karen Asp
WANT TO FEEL miserable for a few days,
even a few weeks? Feel like hugging a box of
tissues instead of your kids? If catching a cold
or the flu is your goal, research has found that
some daily habits could land you in the sick
bay with a cold or, worse, the flu. Here are five
of those not-so-healthy habits.
You sleep less than you should
People who slept less than six hours a
night were four times more likely to get a cold
than those who slumbered seven to nine hours
a night, according to a study in the journal
Sleep. “Sleep loss affects the immune system,
including aspects critical to protecting you
from viruses,” says Aric A. Prather, lead author
and assistant professor of psychiatry at the
University of California, San Francisco.
You battle chronic stress
Who isn’t stressed, right? Yet if you constantly feel overwhelmed, you could be putting your immune system at risk.
“Different neurochemicals are released
in the body in response to stress, and over
time they can impact the immune system,”
says Dr. Aaron Clark, assistant professor of
clinical family medicine at The Ohio State
University and chief medical officer for
Primary One Health in Columbus, Ohio.
You skimp on fruits and veggies
Eat only two servings of fruits and vegetables a day—current guidelines recommend at
least five a day—and you might as well book a
date with your bed. That’s because people who
ate only two servings a day for 12 weeks had
less immune protection against illnesses and
reported more illness overall than folks who
ate five servings daily, per a study from The
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. How
much less? While only 20 percent of the five-a-day group reported illnesses, that number
jumped to 33 percent for the two-a-day group.
Plus, if you load your plate with more
whole foods, you’ll probably cut your intake of
processed foods, which are linked to poorer
immune function, according to a study in the
Nutrition Journal. Bacteria in your gut, after
all, eat your food as well, and when you eat
junk, they eat junk.
“Bacteria that do best on junk flourish,
while bacteria that do best on healthy meals
die off,” says Dr. Ian A. Myles, study author
and chief medical officer with the National
Institutes of Health.
Your body needs good bacteria, he
explains, to fight off dangerous infections and
train the immune system, neither of which bad
bacteria can do.
You push exercise to the bottom
of your to-do list
If you’re not exercising enough—
government guidelines recommend 150 minutes of
moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigor-ous-intensity exercise or a combination of
both weekly—you’re undoubtedly spending
the majority of your day being sedentary,
which can increase body fat. You’re also putting yourself at risk for diabetes and other
chronic issues, all of which can decrease the
functioning of your immune system.
On the flip side, studies show that regular
exercise can strengthen your immune system.
You light up
Smokers in general have more respiratory issues, which means increased odds of
picking up colds and the flu.
“Tobacco smoke contains carcinogens
and other toxins that are directly harmful to
the respiratory system,” Clark says. “This
creates inflammation and stimulates
responses such as mucus production, creat-
ing a medium in which viruses and bacteria
can enter your body more easily.”
Don’t think you’re off the hook if you
don’t smoke but you live with a smoker.
Secondhand smoke could also lower your
immune function, Clark says. C
Karen Asp, an Indiana-based journalist,
specializes in fitness, health and nutrition.
for your health
© SHUTTERSTOCK / WWW.BILLIONPHOTOS.COM
LEGIONNAIRES’ DISEASE was discovered at an American Legion convention at
a Philadelphia hotel in 1976. At least 221
attendees were treated for pneumonia; 34
people died. The cause was identified as
Legionella bacteria—named for this outbreak—in the cooling tower of the hotel.
About 18,000 people are hospitalized
each year with Legionnaires’ disease, and
the number of cases has been on the rise
for the past decade, according to the
Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC). The disease is not
spread from person to person, nor is it airborne. Instead, it is inhaled as vapor or
mist: Small droplets of contaminated water
are breathed into the lungs.
This year an outbreak of Legionnaires’
disease occurred in the Bronx in New York
City, leaving 12 dead and 115 infected.
The source was traced to another hotel
cooling tower. Other recent outbreaks were
reported in Pittsburgh and Chicago.
Those most at risk
Healthy individuals do not usually
become infected with Legionella bacteria
after exposure. Those at high risk include:
; Older people ( 50 years or older).
; Current or former smokers.
; Those with a chronic lung disease.
; Those with a weakened immune
system from disease.
; People taking drugs that suppress the
Symptoms can include a dry cough,
high fever, chills, muscle aches, diarrhea,
fatigue, headache and abdominal pain.
Most cases of Legionnaires’ disease can
be treated successfully with antibiotics.
Hospitalization may be necessary even
for the healthiest of patients.
Legionella in the environment
Legionella bacteria are found naturally
in the environment, usually in warm water
and sometimes in soil, and might be found
; Hot tubs.
; Shower or whirlpool areas
using spray nozzles.
; Cooling towers.
; Hot-water tanks.
; Large plumbing systems.
; Decorative fountains.
You can find more information at the
CDC website cdc.gov/legionella/index.html.