Nutrition

The Science of Sickness Prevention

“If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”

While that advice might seem insane (or hilarious if you’ve watched the movie Dodgeball), it was that mentality that allowed me to figure out how to stay healthy, fine-tune the art of sickness prevention, and have a simple daily routine that can provide your body with the type of insurance you want.

In my case, the “wrench” was the discovery of an autoimmune disorder. For years (nearly 20 if you can believe that), I suffered from chronic fevers that would repeatedly knock me out of commission, sometimes as long as 6 to 8 weeks, with my temperature as high as 104 degrees. It took chunks out of my teenage years, a terrible sophomore year of college, a battle during grad school, and I even chronicled “the plague” during a business trip to London.

Let’s get this myth out of the way fast: Vitamin C does not “cure” colds.

The short-end: the smallest breakdowns could cause me to become incredibly sick. I had to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Most people wait until they get sick and then try to put together recovery plans. The problem? At that point, you’ve already lost the war and are trying to win mini-battles against miserable symptoms.

The right strategy—or the only strategy, if you like feeling good—is taking preventative measures. The problem is that the wealth of health information either makes it:

  • Too confusing to know what will actually make a difference
  • Overwhelming to try and take 100 different pills, creams, sprays, or medications.

My approach was different: I wanted to focus less on what to do once you’re sick and more on the preventative steps that have the biggest impact on improving overall health on a day-to-day basis. If you build a strong foundation, it’s harder for anything to cause a disruption.

Here are 3 tips from some of the top immune doctors and researchers that will boost your overall health, and lessen the likelihood of any illness taking you down.

Sickness Prevention Tip #1: The Sleep Minimum

You might know that sleep plays a vital role in everything from slowing the aging process to helping with fat loss. But its biggest value might be in keeping you from becoming sick. Most people think about how much sleep they need, but it’s really the nights of little sleep that put you in the greatest danger.

Research from Finland found that just one night of sleeping less than 4 hours is enough to alter your genes, trigger an immune response, and leave you more susceptible to illness and increase inflammation. That’s because your lack of rest disrupts the immune cells that protect you from viruses.

Your Solution: You shouldn’t sleep less than 6 hours. Ever. It’s that simple. If you have trouble getting a full night’s sleep, some natural products to try include melatonin (anywhere from 1-3mg), zinc, and magnesium. While research shows that melatonin will not treat serious sleep deficiencies (like insomnia), it has been shown to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.

Sickness Prevention Tip #2: Movement Protection

Going to the gym isn’t just for vanity. Resistance exercise might be the best way to strengthen your immune defense while you build more muscle. And if you believe science, more is better for your body.

How’s this for a crazy coincidence: researchers from Appalachian State found that people who exercise 5 or more days per week have nearly 50 percent fewer sick days than those that train only 1 time or less.

The reason is simple: exercise impacts blood flow, which also triggers an immune response that sends your internal defense system to fight pathogens that want to take you down and leave you bed-ridden.

Your Solution: Time limitations always make it hard to work out more than a few days per week, but “immune defense” workouts don’t have to be too long. British researchers found that just 25 minutes of weight training is enough to trigger your immune defense system into high gear and help with sickness prevention.

Not near a gym? No worries. Korean scientists also found that moderate exercise—like a brisk walk—can have a similar impact and decrease the likelihood of illness.

Sickness Prevention Tip #3: You Can’t Kill Colds, But You Can Help Prevent Them

Let’s get this myth out of the way fast: Vitamin C does not “cure” colds. There’s absolutely no research to suggest such a thing, and until something changes, there’s no reason to super-load the popular antioxidant once an illness hits.

In fact, for any virus, there are some restrictions on just how much you can do to prevent them other than washing your hands and avoiding “contact” with the bugs

That said, there are things you can do to help strengthen your overall immune system and assist with prevention. For example, there are some potential benefits to taking vitamin C, as well as vitamin D, B-complex vitamins, probiotics, and fish oil on a daily basis. Remember, prevention is the name of the game to better health, and these nutrient aids supply your body with what it needs to fight sickness.

Vitamin C is involved with growth development and repair of your body’s tissues. This means it helps with everything from the formation of collagen, healing would, and yes—protecting your immune system. It also helps fight against free radicals, which are linked to every bad illness or health condition imaginable.

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, but among its numerous benefits is its ability to help protect against upper respiratory infections. In fact, Canadian researchers found that people who take at like 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 per week (so just about 1500 IUs per day) can cut their likelihood of illness by 50 percent.

Probiotics are linked to gut health, and the more we research the microbiome, the more we learn it might play an important role in nearly all functioning in your body. In particular, Italian scientists found that a particular probiotic strand (Lactobacillus plantarum) can slow bacterial growth and prevent inflammation.

And fish oil—while commonly taken for heart health and increased longevity—is showing promise in animal studies for immune protection by boosting the activity of your white blood cells, according to researchers from Michigan State and East Carolina. Just be aware: in this case, more is not better. Those same researchers found that super loading with omega 3 fatty acids and flip immune response in the opposite direction and make it harder to fight microbial pathogens.

Your Solution: On paper, it looks like a lot. But you have 2 options:

  1. Eat fruits and vegetables, fish or plant-based sources of omega 3’s, and take a probiotic and you’re good to go.
  2. Just make a smoothie first thing in the morning (or at any time) and don’t worry about it. Here’s one of my favorites:

Your Sickness Prevention Daily Checklist

✓ Sleep minimum 6 hours per night

✓ Aim for some exercise—minimum of 25-30 minutes—at least 4-5 days per week

✓ Antioxidants + B-vitamins + Vitamin D + Fish oil + Probiotic

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