Several million years ago, it is hypothesized, the first Stone Age human caught the first cold. Ever since then, doctors, nurses, herbalists, shaman and healers of every sort have been confounded by colds and flu. Over the years, these devilish pathogens have been treated with cold baths, wet feet, chili peppers, tobacco, and the application of blood-sucking leeches.
Now we understand that colds and flu are caused by viruses – but we’re still no closer to a cure. The only defense is a good offense. But who says it has to be a drag?
Besides eating right, washing your hands regularly and getting enough sleep, you can maximize your pathogen-fighting potential, with a handful of entertaining activities.
1. Steam a pan of oysters. They’re the richest source of zinc, essential for immune cell function (1), and many studies have shown that even mild deficiency depresses immunity (2). If you’re not a fan of bivalves, grab a (grass-fed) burger: beef and buffalo are other good sources of zinc.
2. Rent a Woody Allen movie. Or whatever tickles your funny bone. A good belly laugh can boost immunity and increase natural endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. In one recent study, laughter appeared to specifically impact the activity of natural killer cells (3).
3. Go skiing. In one study, people who were physically active had 33 percent fewer sick days, and when they did get sick, their symptoms were less severe (4).Walking, running, dancing, or anything that gets your blood moving will have the same effect. But if you’re coming down with something, skip the lift lines and stay in bed; exercising when you’re already sick can weaken immune function.
4. Throw a party. Forget about isolating; people with stronger social networks and friendships are less likely to get sick. Many studies have consistently linked a strong support system with better immune function, as well as lower blood pressure and reduced mortality (5).
5. Discover martial arts. Tai chi, a slow-moving type of Chinese martial art, improves the immune response (6); qigong, a similar practice, has the same benefits (7). In one study, a moderate tai chi and qigong practice improved immune response of older adults, after only five months of practice (8).
6. Snack on Brazil nuts. They’re the best food source of selenium, a powerful antioxidant that’s been shown to significantly improve immune response. Other sources: tuna, turkey, egg yolks, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds (9).
7. Get your ohm on. In a recent study, people who practiced mindfulness meditation reduced the incidence, duration and severity of respiratory infections by as much as 50 percent (10).The study’s authors noted that the results were nearly as effective as flu shots, which have only a 50 to 60 percent chance of preventing infection.
8. Go out for sushi. You’ll find lots of foods on the menu that protect against infection. Order the salmon roll for immune-boosting omega-3 fats (11), and have pickled ginger on the side for its anti-viral activities (12). Start with miso soup; it contains probiotics that boosts the body’s resistance to pathogens (13). And order immune-boosting green tea—not sake (14).
9. Schedule a massage to reduce stress, one of the most important factors in improving immune function (15). Massage also increases the activity and number of the body’s natural “killer cells” that fight off pathogens (16).
10. Have sex. As long as your partner’s well, it’s a great way to fight colds and flu. An older (1999) study showed that people who had sex one or twice a week had higher levels of immunoglobulin (IGA), a cold-fighting antibody, than those who had sex less often, or not at all. And even if it doesn’t work, you’ll have fun trying.