Some bad habits can be overlooked, like leaving wet towels on the floor or not wearing socks with sneakers. We all have them. If you catch yourself repeatedly losing your keys or waking up late, you are guilty of a bad habit. These bad habits are annoying and inconvenient, but they won’t do much damage in the long run.
Keeping minor bad habits is relatively acceptable. You might be late for appointments more often, but the long-term ramifications won’t be significant. There are habits, however, that are worse than others. Some habits can compromise your immune system and lead to illness.
What is the Immune System?
The immune system is how your body defends against disease-causing parasites, viruses, bacteria, and more. It’s vital to our survival. White blood cells, antibodies, and T-cells are a few examples of immune system cells that work to keep us healthy.
The immune system has an army of cells with particular roles that battle infectious invaders. Our immune cells are like an army. Each group of cells has a specific task. For example, B-cells find invading cells and T-cells destroy these enemies.
As with any army, it’s important to keep the immune system well-supplied and in fighting shape.
Bad Habits That Weaken Your Immune System:
These types of bad habits also make it less likely that we’ll bounce back quickly from illnesses. If you’re wondering what these habits are, the following are seven habits that damage your immune system.
1. Skipping Out on Exercise
You have to expend energy to boost your immune system. Our bodies operate like a machine, and if you don’t use a machine frequently — like a car or motorcycle — the parts start to stagnate and rust.
Exercise keeps your blood flowing through your body, providing fresh oxygen and nutrients throughout your body through your cardiovascular system. It also keeps your bones and muscles flexible and healthy.
Health professionals also encourage people to exercise to boost their immune system. Although not precisely known how exercise directly impacts immunity, these are the following theories:
- White blood cells and antibodies flow throughout the body when we exercise, allowing them to detect invaders much more quickly.
- Exercise helps keep viruses and bacteria out of the respiratory system, preventing the flu and colds.
- Stress can compromise the immune system, and exercising lowers stress.
- The small rise in body temperature might work like a fever, killing off disease-causing cells and preventing them from multiplying.
You don’t have to run a marathon or be a bodybuilder to boost your immune system through exercise. And overdoing exercise can do more damage than good. What’s important is to have an active lifestyle that includes regular exercise — making exercise a habit. Daily walks or bicycling for 20-30 minutes is sufficient for most people.
2. Forgetting to Wash Your Hands
The American Public Health Association (APHA) states that only about 32% of people wash their hands after sneezing or coughing. That’s quite a bit of people (78%) who are not washing their hands.
This means that the next time these people touch a doorknob or countertop, the germs on their hands transfer onto the surface. The following person that touches that surface can get infected with their germs.
Not only do people who don’t wash their hands spread infection, but they can get infected also. Washing your hands prevents you from keeping the germs you’ve picked up from surfaces from getting into your body when you eat, scratch your nose, or rub your eyes.
If you forget to wash your hands, your body must fight off germs much more often, weakening your immune system army. Your hands are valuable tools, but like any tool, they tend to get dirty. They pick up germs and debris ans you use them throughout the day. Regular hand-washing keeps your immune system ready for when it needs to fight.
3. Drinking Soda
If you find yourself struggling to stop your soft-drink habit, you’re not alone. The sugars found in sodas releases dopamine inside the brain. Dopamine is the body’s “feel-good” chemical, and it’s the chemical most related to addiction. Sugar is a very addictive chemical, which is why drinking sugary drinks and eating frosty cupcakes are hard habits to break.
Unfortunately, sugary drinks can also impact your immune system. Your soda habit causes your immune system to go awry, causing inflammation where it doesn’t typically need to. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reports that reducing sugary drinks causes a decrease in inflammation markers in the body.
4. Not Taking Care of Your Oral Health
There is a strong connection between oral health and general health. The mouth is your body’s door to the outside world and the gatekeeper of your body. Brushing and flossing regularly keeps the bacteria in your mouth in check. However, when you make a habit of forgetting to take care of your oral health, that bacteria flourishes.
Poor oral health then causes inflammation throughout the body, not just in the mouth. This occurs because bacteria that grow around your teeth and gums. This accumulation of bacteria can break away and travel into your body. Constantly fighting off this bacteria weakens your immune system, making it work overtime.
5. Drinking Excessively
There’s evidence that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to illnesses, especially respiratory ones. Alcohol destroys structures in the upper and lower airways that keep out bacteria and viruses. The damage leads to more infections, which tires out the immune system.
Alcohol also wears the liver down, which is how the body flushes out toxins. The buildup of toxins and the destruction of respiratory structures can weaken the immune system.
6. Not Sleeping Well
It’s tempting to treat sleep as an inconvenience. Especially when our schedules become tight, sleep seems to be the one thing we can do less of. After all, sleep doesn’t appear to make us money or keep us happy.
However, sleep allows us to function better in our daily lives, perhaps making us more efficient and successful at what we do. It also supports our mental health, allowing us to deal with everyday stressors. Sleep also affects the immune system.
A lack of quality sleep reduces the production of proteins called cytokines. Cytokines are one of the immune system cells that battle diseases. When we don’t sleep, our immune system lowers the output of its immune cells, such as cytokines and antibodies. Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to infections, weight gain, and heart disease.
The right amount of sleep for each person depends on their lifestyle, health, and age. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep. For adolescents and children, though, 9-10 hours would be ideal.
7. Ignoring Stress Reduction Techniques
It’s not reasonable to avoid all stress. We may have to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones or delve into stressful situations to reach our goals. However, we have to do what we can to reduce and manage our stress. Because stress affects our immune system in significant ways.
Chronic, unmanaged stress weakens the immune system through the production of cortisol. Cortisol is the chemical involved in the “fight or flight” response.
Although it helps trigger other responses that push us through stressful situations, cortisol also suppresses the immune response. Cortisol causes a reduction in the creation of white blood cells, vital to fighting viruses and bacteria.
Finding ways to dial your stress levels down can prevent your immune system from being compromised. Stress reduction techniques like deep breathing, positive coping skills, and exercise can all reduce constant stress levels.
How to Develop Immune Boosting Habits?
A one-time magic bullet doesn’t exist to rev up the immune system. More than likely, you’d be better off making overall lifestyle changes to keep yourself healthy. Changes don’t need to be sudden or drastic. What changes you do make must be consistent, and you do need to be diligent. Replacing bad habits with good ones doesn’t occur overnight, but it’s necessary for your health.
How well the immune system functions depends on other parts of the body, and the immune system is not 100% effective. No matter what you do, you may still get sick at some point.
However, you can take steps to decrease your risk of illness or complications by creating good lifestyle habits such as washing your hands, avoiding sugary drinks, and managing your stress levels. The human body has an amazing mechanism to keep us from getting sick. Let’s give it all the advantages it needs. Thanks for reading and as always, breathe easy my friend.
The following are the sources that were used while doing research for this article:
- “The Immune System.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/the-immune-system. Accessed 18 Sept. 2020.
- “Exercise and Immunity.” MedlinePlus, 23 Jan. 2020, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm.
- “Antibody.” MedlinePlus, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002223.htm. Accessed 18 Sept. 2020.
- “Hand-Washing: What You Need to Know, Why It’s so Important.” Get Ready For Flu, www.getreadyforflu.org/facts/HandwashingFacts.pdf.
- Park, Sohyun. “Preventing Chronic Disease | Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Among US Adults in 6 States: Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2011 – CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 Sept. 2020, www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2014/13_0304.htm.
- “Evidence for Sugar Addiction: Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Intermittent, Excessive Sugar Intake.” PubMed Central (PMC), 18 Sept. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2235907.
- “The Link between Oral and General Health.” PubMed Central (PMC), 18 Sept. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6560319.
- “Alcohol and the Immune System.” PubMed Central (PMC), 18 Sept. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590612.
- “Alcohol-Induced Ciliary Dysfunction Targets the Outer Dynein Arm.” PubMed Central (PMC), 15 Mar. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4360061.
- “Lack of Sleep: Can It Make You Sick?” Mayo Clinic, 28 Nov. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757.
- Harvard Health Publishing. “Crucial Ways You Can Support a Healthy Immune System.” Harvard Health, June 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/crucial-ways-you-can-support-a-healthy-immune-system.