With cold and flu season here, it’s more important than ever that we all get plenty of sleep, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly to keep our immune systems in top shape. But why stop there? If you want to strengthen your body’s defenses by any means necessary, here are some less orthodox tactics:
Scientists in Japan have started prescribing "forest therapy" as a way for people to relax and boost their immune health, after a study found that men who’d spent six hours hiking in a forest over the course of two days had higher levels of “natural killer cells,” which strengthen immunity and help fight cancer. The healthy effects of the hike lasted for 30 days. If a few days of arboreal wandering don’t fit your schedule, seek out whatever nature you can find, such as a park or even your own backyard. Being in nature is a natural stress reliever, and relaxation is great for your immune system.
More: 30 Herbs for Colds & Flu
It’s hard to say how long the effects last, but researchers from a wellness center in Pennsylvania and a medical school in California found that group drummers had higher levels of immune system boosters in their blood than people who simply listened to them bang away. You may like to join your local drum circle, but the study’s authors say that pounding out some rhythms at home on your kitchen pots and pans works just as well.
Yes, you can tell your partner that you need sex for medicinal purposes. Pop home for at least a quickie once or twice a week and you’ll boost your body’s production of immunoglobulin A, a virus- and bacteria-fighting antibody, by 30 percent. Also find time to cuddle up on the couch and watch a funny move. Laughter increases your body’s store of disease fighting T-cell antibodies.
Kefir, a kind of milk fermented with grains, isn’t exactly sour milk, but the fermentation process gives it up to five times the disease-fighting probiotics found in yogurt (and here's how you can make it at home). If you’d rather stick with yogurt, that’s fine; it’s also a source of iodine, which helps your thyroid gland regulate your immune system. You can also boost your iodine stores through eggs, milk and iodized table salt (just cut down on the non-iodized salt found in processed foods to compensate).
The essential oils found in hemp plants boost immunity, and thanks to recent innovation, you can get those oils in a variety of hemp-based foods, like hemp milk. But they don’t contain any of the THC found in marijuana, so your morning cereal won’t have you reliving scenes from “Dazed and Confused.” Nevertheless, if you prefer herbs of the more common variety, rosemary and thyme also contain disease-fighting components. And those are legal to grow in your backyard.