Follicular lymphoma is one of the blood cell cancers in the non-hodgkin’s lymphoma family. (Saying “family” makes it sound all nice and cozy, almost like something you would want to be a part of, doesn’t it??) It is also a cancer of the immune system because the affected cells are lymphocytes, which are the cells that help protect our bodies from infection.
Even though I know many people are getting sick this year and staying sick longer than normal, the fact that my immune system is slightly compromised is most likely contributing to my body’s willingness to hold on for dear life to this/these infections that I’ve had. Spending the better part of the past month sick, sniffling, coughing, keeping Kleenex in business, and feeling generally bleh has left me wondering about ways I can “shore up” my immune system to prevent repeats of this experience.
We are all familiar with the usual precautions we should take at this time of year: wash our hands often, use hand sanitizer, avoid sick people. But in addition to those smart steps, what else can we do to make our bodies better able to fight infection? I did a little research and came up with five immunity-boosting steps we can all take today.
1. Eat Well. This doesn’t mean eat “a lot,” but make wise choices when selecting your food. Don’t rely on convenience foods and what you can grab from a drive-thru. Lean proteins, as well as fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that help fight off infection. Antibodies are made of protein, so by feeding protein to your body you are helping to ward off infection. The vitamins found in many fruits and vegetables can help your white cells (the infection fighters in your blood) do their job better, and they also help to regulate your immune system. Good food is good protection for you.
2. Move. I’m not talking about buying a new house, I’m talking about moving your body. Get active and stay active. Walk. Run. Do yoga. Bike. Swim (indoors in a heated pool unless you are trying to catch pneumonia!). 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (and a brisk walk counts) will get your white cells circulating again so that they power your immune system more efficiently.
3. Rest. As a fan of naps and sleep, in general, this suggestion is my personal favorite. :) We need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Skimping on sleep either because we can’t sleep or we are too busy to sleep will weaken our body’s to the point where we are susceptible to infections. Research has shown that people who got, on average, only four hours of sleep each night had 50% less immune system antibodies. Sleep matters.
4. De-Stress. Occasional stress is ok. The kind of stress that causes you to stay awake at night worrying and has you freaking out virtually every day at work is not good for you. The compound effect of this kind of stress on your immune system is damaging to our body’s natural killer cell and T-cell counts. These power white cells are the soldiers that fight infection. When we remain under constant stress, their ability to do their job is diminished and our bodies suffer. Find ways to manage the stress – or eliminate it all together. If you can’t change jobs or remove the source of the stress, take time to de-stress each day. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, prayer, and exercises such as yoga can all help.
5. Have Fun & Laugh. Go to dinner with friends (and eat lots of proteins, fruits, and vegetables!), go see a funny movie with your love, play the drums (one study showed that those who play drums have higher levels of immune system boosters in their blood), do something silly with your child. Just do whatever it is that you think is fun. Laughter is good for the soul and great for the body as it increases natural “killer” cells and antibodies that your body needs to fend off infection.
I hope these tips are helpful and that you stay strong, healthy, and infection free this winter!