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Win the Cold War: 7 Ways to Boost Your Immune System

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Healthy habit: Exercise is a regular part of your daily routine.
Power it up: Working out strengthens your cold- and flu-fighting ability. But regularly pushing your limits can do more harm than good: One study in Australia found that runners who hit the treadmill at a challenging pace for an hour and a half experienced as much as a 50 percent drop in their production of immunoglobulin A, a germ-battling antibody, afterward. "Prolonged high-intensity exercise puts stress on your body, raising your chances of getting sick," says David Nieman, the director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University. For a healthier workout, incorporate breaks into your routine. Nieman found that exercise with built-in pauses -- say, tennis, soccer or interval training -- doesn't have the same negative impact as running at a constant pace. Training for a long-distance event? Fueling properly can reduce the inflammation that weakens your immune system. If you're doing a workout that is 90 minutes long or longer, aim to get 120 to 240 calories' worth of carbs -- for instance, a banana and/or a sports gel -- during each hour of exercise.

Healthy habit: You carry a water bottle with you wherever you go.
Power it up: "Staying hydrated keeps your mucus membranes moist and helps your immune system function efficiently," says Neil Schachter, MD, the medical director of the Respiratory Care Department at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Reusable bottles can breed bacteria, though, so wash yours with hot soapy water every day. Consider moisturizing the air you breathe, too. Cold and flu viruses thrive in dry air, so running a humidifier may be your ticket to a healthy winter. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that roughly 74 percent of flu-infected cells survived after an hour in a room with 23 percent or less humidity; only about 18 percent of the virus, however, survived in a room with 43 percent or more humidity. A humidifier can bring your space to 40 percent humidity (any higher than that can cause mold to grow).

Healthy habit: You skip greasy, sugary foods in favor of low-fat, low-cal soups and salads.
Power it up: A steady stream of light meals may leave you vulnerable to the bug that has your coworker coughing. A study from Drexel University suggests that a low-calorie diet hampers the body's immune response. Skip the deprivation-diet plan and load up on lean protein, healthy fats, whole grains and produce. "Snacks are an ideal way to get an extra dose of nutrients," Grotto says. Brazil nuts, for instance, are high in selenium, a mineral that can enhance white blood cell function, and yogurt is rich in good-for-you probiotics.

Healthy habit: You wipe down your desk every day.
Power it up: Use your disinfectant on common surfaces, too -- they're usually teeming with germs. The most contaminated objects in an office include the kitchen faucet, the microwave door handle, and water fountain and vending machine buttons, according to an analysis from the University of Arizona in Phoenix. "Cold and flu viruses can live outside the body for at least a few hours and up to four days," says study author Charles Gerba, PhD, a professor of microbiology. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in highly trafficked zones like the break room, and squirt some on your hands each time you enter or leave. That alone can reduce the occurrence of cold and flu by up to 80 percent, Gerba says.

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