7 Habits that Hurt Immune Health

Life is full of bad habits that we could do without. Too often, we neglect long-term wellness in the pursuit of instant gratification. A late night out and a couple of drinks might feel good in the moment, but you’ll probably regret it in the morning—and long term!

Bad decisions can catch up with you over time. People who let bad habits persist throughout their lives might eventually realize that they’re constantly catching a cold or feeling run down. That’s because bad habits—both physical and psychological—weaken the immune system.

The following bad habits might be bogging you down. For better health, come up with a game plan to ditch them for good.

  1. Going outside without sunscreen: Applying sunscreen every two hours can be a hassle. However, a few minutes dedicated to self-care can save you from recurring infections down the road. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun slowly chips away at your immune system, which inhibits the immune cells’ ability to launch an attack on harmful pathogens. Save yourself from future sick days and make sure you’re covered!
  2. Nicotine and tobacco products: Everyone knows by now that cigarettes and chewing tobacco are bad for you. Unfortunately, companies keep coming up with ways to repackage addictive substances in attractive forms like e-cigarettes and flavored vape juices. A little-known fact about these products is that they can damage the immune system in multiple ways. Nicotine deteriorates cells in the nose, throat and lungs, opening the door to infection. It also keeps your white blood cell count at an all-time high, which burns out the immune system.
  3. A diet packed with junk food: Sugar is quite addictive and almost as hard to quit as smoking. This becomes a problem when an unhealthy diet leads to an unhealthy immune system. What you eat affects the microbiome of good and bad bacteria in your gut. Food that’s loaded with sugar, fat and salt paves the way for bad bacteria to overpower the good. When the microbiome is thrown off balance, so is the rest of your immune system. While smoking keeps white blood cell levels abnormally high, junk food suppresses the white blood cell count and lets infection take hold.
  4. Heavy consumption of alcohol: Unsurprisingly, nicotine products and alcohol create a similar damaging effect. Alcoholic beverages break down the cells that line your mouth and throat, making them more vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections. Alcohol also depletes vitamin C in the body—a nutrient that’s essential for keeping sickness at bay. Show your body some kindness and try to limit your number of drinks each week.
  5. Cutting back on sleep: When you’re bogged down with a cold, all your body wants to do is sleep. That’s because sleep is the number-one tool for fighting off diseases. But catching some Z’s doesn’t just speed up the recovery process—at least seven to nine hours of sleep every night can prevent sickness from happening in the first place. Sleep deprivation weakens the immune system, and so does constantly changing your circadian rhythm. Find a sleep schedule that works for you and stick with it.
  6. Sitting on the couch every day: You might not like exercise, but your body does! Finding the motivation to stay active is hard, but it pays off in the long run because exercise bolsters your immune system, while a sedentary lifestyle hampers it. More specifically, every person needs to spend a little bit of time each day outdoors. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, which your immune system uses to kill infections. You don’t have to be a pro athlete—a quick walk around the block is enough to give your immune system a boost.
  7. Being overwhelmed by negative emotions: Some bad habits aren’t “habits” at all. Negative emotions like grief, stress and loneliness are natural, unavoidable parts of life. Everyone feels sad at some point, but it’s what you do with those emotions that counts. People who struggle to move through the grieving process or are lonely have higher levels of stress and weakened immune systems. Take the necessary steps to bring happiness back into your life, and your physical wellbeing will follow suit.

Don’t worry if one or more of these habits are present in your life. Simply acknowledging that some aspects of your lifestyle need improvement is half the battle already won. No one is expecting you to conquer unhealthy habits overnight. With some determination and a loyal support group, you’ll kick these bad habits to the curb and restore your health!

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