2010, Magazine: Longevity

Kick-start your immunity!

It’s almost time to pull out those Winter woollies from the back of your closet as the days get a little nippier. Not only do you have to rearrange your wardrobe, but you also need to stock up on the usual cold and flu remedies such as Echinacea, ginger and fruits or supplements laden with vitamin C. However, starting today, you could stave off those seasonal complaints and boost your immunity with these nine easy steps to keep you fighting fit and healthy.


1. Count sheep for up to eight hours a day
“Lack of sleep lowers your immune system response and makes you more prone to infections and diseases,” says Brian Govender, Sleep Services Manager at the Cape Sleep Centre, located in the Gatesville Medical Centre. “Not only that, but too little sleep has an effect on concentration, memory and mood. It is also a major cause of accidents and keeps people from being fully present and enjoying social relationships.” Govender also points out that a lack of sleep also results in gastro-intestinal distress, headaches and aching muscles. Sleep he says, at least six to eight hours a night, in a darkened room without disruptions, is vital to our increasingly stressful lifestyles, to keep us in the pink. 


2. Cultivate a razor-sharp mind
Certain kinds of thinking may improve your immunity. This is according to the neuroscientist, Marian Diamond of the University of California, Berkeley, who claims that the immune system is directly linked to the part of the brain that handles planning, memory, initiative, judgement and abstract thinking. President of the South African Creativity Foundation and best-selling author, Dr Kobus Neethling, agrees. “If you can stimulate the thinking which is connected to each of these dimensions, you give your brain a better chance of staying sharp, which will in turn affect your health,” he says. Professional coach and Author of the Pretty Powerful 90-Day Life Makeover program, Samantha McMurtrie, adds that it’s all about maintaining a positive outlook on life. “It we replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts – we reinforce a message in our subconscious that we actually want for our lives, – so, always affirm that you have a healthy immune system and your subconscious mind will help that become your reality!”


3. Laughter is the best medicine
A few years back, Megan Furniss, owner of Improvision, a company performing the show TheatreSports in Cape Town for the past 16 years, attended a Laughter Yoga workshop. “Laughter oxygenates the blood, reduces stress and releases endorphins – all processes which give your immune system a lift,” she says. Research conducted by Loma Linda University in California claims that brain chemicals linked to the immune system increase when we laugh – or even think of something funny. With TheatreSports, the nature of the laughter is not centred on making fun of others – rather it is wholly positive – and focused on on-the-spot improvisation games. “The laughing is utterly contagious – and that is all you’ll be catching if you laugh abundantly this season,” she adds. 


4. Eat and exercise between your forty winks
“Eating well-balanced healthy meals decreases the amount of toxins made by your body – and increases the anti-oxidants necessary to clean up the free-radicals, which strengthens the immunity,” says Kim Hofmann, Adventure Bootcamp resident and registered dietitian. “Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables for vitamins, yoghurt for the gut and immune function, and honey for its anti-microbial activity.” Fitness consultant and Adventure Bootcamp trianer, Irini Simitci-Green points out that exercise works hand in hand with nutrition. “Exercise boosts the production of macrophages, the warriors responsible for fighting off bacteria in the system,” she says. “Always aim towards a healthy regime of combining nutrition and exercise – as this benefits your body on so many levels.”


5. Meditation everyday keeps the doctor away
The founder of Buddhism, Gautama Siddharta (563-483 B.C.) once said, “Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.” Louis van Loon, founder of the Buddhist Retreat Centre, located in the village of Ixopo in KwaZulu-Natal, concurs. “It has been recognised for decades in the West and millennia in the East, that your physical well-being is intimately linked to your psychological health,” he says. “The deep contentedness that comes from being at peace in the world of your experiences, no matter what they are, affects the whole of your being.” Van Loon encourages nurturing the self through Mindful Meditation practice through which you learn to pay close attention to your most immediate, ‘Here-Now’ reality, whilst staying calm, yet fully engaged. American research into Mindfulness Meditation in 2003 found that this type of meditation positively affected the brain and immune system functioning. 

6. Music for health and well-being
The Music Therapy Community Clinic is the only one of its kind in South Africa. Of the 38 qualified music therapists in the country, seven are located in Cape Town. Explaining the function of music therapy is author Leslie Bunt, (Art Beyond Words) who writes that “music therapy is the use of sounds and music within an evolving relationship between client and therapist, to support and encourage physical, mental, social and emotional well-being.” According to Karyn Lesley Stuart, music therapist and Music for Health project manager for The Music Therapy Community Clinic, music has a profound effect on our brain structure and anatomy. “On an immunological level, listening to certain music can influence the levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, in our bodies, as well as the number of anti-bodies in our system. This in turn has a positive effect on our immune system,” she says. “Music and being involved in music-making can help even the most ill person celebrate the healthy, able side of themselves.”



7. Meet and greet for good health
“Human beings are intrinsically social animals. We thrive on the interaction with others at both conscious and sub-conscious levels,” says Danny Tuckwood, convenor of Great Conversations. “Our minds are not separate from our bodies and so, by forming relationships, friendships, simply connecting with other human beings, we will inevitably have an effect on our physical form and immunity – and of course, laughing always lifts the spirits and feeling of well-being.” Great Conversations, launched in 2009, creates a safe, comfortable space for individuals to meet, share a good meal and interesting conversation with new people and friends alike – all without the pressure created by dating clubs or business networking events. “Through relationships and interactions with others in a stress-free environment, you create a feeling of belonging, which places you in the feel-good state, which furthermore impacts on your health,” he adds. 


8. Orgasm, what’s not to love?
Usually anything that causes pleasure isn’t always considered good for us. Just look at the pleasures of alcohol, chocolates or even koeksusters – obviously these are not good for you. But, what about sex? Finally, researchers and physicians are revealing the fact that orgasms ARE good for you – body, mind and soul.  “Through orgasm, the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is released, which according to Dr Theresa Crenshaw, author of The Alchemy of Love and Lust may be the most powerful chemical in our personal world,” says clinical sexologist, Professor Elna McIntosh. “It helps balance the immune system, improves cognition and promotes bone and tissue, growth and repair. Wilkes University in Pennsylvania says those who have sex once or twice a week show 30% higher levels of an anti-body called immunoglobulin A, which is known to boost the immune system.”

9. Donate blood
In ancient times, the medical practice of ‘bloodletting’ was commonplace, where for over 2000 years until the 19th century, blood was withdrawn from the patient to help cure or prevent illness and disease. Thankfully, due to more research and technological advancements, bloodletting as a practice has been refined and now, in the form of donating blood, benefits someone beyond yourself, in need of your blood type. “The evidence for a direct benefit from blood donation is not extensive, although a large retrospective study in Italy in the 1980’s found a large survival advantage in donors,” says Dr. Arthur Bird, CEO and medical director for the Western Province Blood Transfusion Service (WPBTS). According to Dr. Juanita Makan, Medical Officer at the WPBTS, another interesting direct effect of giving blood is that the donation of one pint of blood burns 650 calories!  


Seven signs and symptoms that you’re out of sorts

  • You sweet tooth takes over…
    • Too much sugar hampers the ability of your white blood cells to kill nasty influenza-friendly bacteria.
  • You don’t drink enough water…
    • Water helps to clean out your body and release toxins.
  • You can’t seem to shed those extra kilo’s…
    • Carrying extra weight prevents the immune system from fighting off infection effectively.
  • Your nose is dry and uncomfortable…
    • Sounds icky, but the mucous in your nose helps to trap viruses which can cause illness.  
  • You’re always stressed out…
    • Long-term stress weakens your immune system, so take time out to chill!
  • You’re always nursing a cold…
    • If you are catching more than three colds in the wintry season then it’s clear that your resistance is low.

Click here to see another version of this story at the Longevity Magazine online portal. 

    Author: Charlene Yared-West. Published in Longevity Magazine, April 2010, p. 11. 

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