Cold and Flu: What Doctors Do to Boost Their Immune Systems

Brunilda Nazario, MD, is Lead Medical Director for WebMD.

Meet Our Expert

Brunilda Nazario, MD, is Lead Medical Director for WebMD. Based in New York, she's an internist and endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in issues related to hormones). She's certified in advanced diabetes management. She's also knowledgeable about alternative health and integrative medicine -- medicine that takes the whole person into account, including lifestyle.

The best thing is to make sure you’re getting 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep every night.

Get Enough Sleep

Your daily habits are key to a healthy immune system. Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. The best thing you can do is make sure you're getting 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep every night. If you have trouble doing that sometimes, a short nap (of less than 30 minutes) can help make up some of the deficit.

A bedtime ritual can get your body ready for sleep.

Have a Sleep Routine

A bedtime ritual can get your body ready for sleep, which can help make sure you get enough ZZZs. Start by turning down the lights before bedtime to get your mind in a good place for sleep, then set up your pillows and pull down your bed sheets to prepare for bed. You might follow that with a bath or some chamomile tea to relax and wind down.

Research shows that physical activity is good for your immune system.

Be Active

Make regular exercise a part of your life. A good goal is 30 to 45 minutes a day at least 5 days a week. There'll probably be days when you don't want to do it, but research shows that physical activity is good for your immune system. Whether it's taking a walk, riding a bike, or lifting weights, find something you like to do and find a time every day that works for you. That'll make it easier for exercise to become a healthy habit.

You can manage your stress by doing something you like.

Find Your Special Place

Stress can affect your immune system and your ability to fight off illness. You can help manage it by doing something you like or going somewhere that relaxes you. For example, getting outside and into nature can be a great way to stop, breathe, and rebalance yourself.

Try to be aware of when you’re about to short-circuit.

Be Mindful

A lot of us think we're supposed to be busy all the time, but that's not really good for us. It can be hard to just shut it off, so you need to retrain yourself to think a different way. Try to be aware of when you're about to short-circuit. When it comes, take a step back. There are apps for your phone or programs from various organizations that can help with that.

A healthy, balanced diet gives your body the nutrients it needs to have a strong immune system.

Eat Right

A healthy, balanced diet gives your body the nutrients it needs to work the way it should. Your eating plan should include protein with each meal -- like fish, chicken, tofu, or beans. Get a variety of fruits and vegetables too. It's also important to stay away from fast food, because it can cause inflammation that can hamper your immune system.

If you feel like you’re coming down with something, you don’t need to take supplements.

Go With Natural Sources

If you feel like you're coming down with something, you don't need to take supplements to give your immune system a boost. Instead of vitamin C tablets, opt for tea with ginger or honey. As we get older, our ability to fight off germs can fade a bit. If you notice that you're getting colds more often, try getting more zinc into your diet. You can get it from things like seafood and beans.

To make sure you’re doing all you can to help your immune system, it’s important to keep up with your immunizations.

Stay Up to Date on Vaccines

To make sure you're doing all you can to help your immune system, it's important to keep up with your immunizations. All adults should get an annual flu shot, a Tdap (tetanus, pertussis, and diphtheria) vaccine if they didn't get one as a teen, and a Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster shot every 10 years. Adults older than 50 also need the vaccines that protect against shingles, meningitis, and pneumonia.

Socializing with people you care about can be good for your immune system.

Find Your ‘Tribe’

Don't underestimate the power of connecting with others. Socializing with people you care about can lower stress and, in turn, be good for your immune system. A weekly catch-up with family and friends can do wonders for your mental and physical health.

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REFERENCES:

  • Interview with Brunilda Nazario, M.D.
  • SleepFoundation.org: "How Sleep Affects Your Immunity."
  • CDC: "What Vaccines Are Recommended for You."
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