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We all like to think we do a lot to look after our health. From walking past the full-fat items in a supermarket to getting the right amount of sleep, we’re on it. When we get ill, we like to think we know the ways to treat it. When to go to the doctor, when not to go. When to take painkillers and when to just sit back and let things pass. We’re healthier in general than we used to be.

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The fact remains, though, that we’re often looking at it on a very superficial level. While we may take the right choices on diet and treatment, we’re thinking on two main fronts. Avoiding things that make us ill is the first, and getting better when we are is the second. The truth is that there are some ways of getting sick that we can’t escape, but we can prepare ourselves to repel.

Your immune system is a pretty impressive mechanism. All day long we may be exposed to germs which have a chance of making us ill. Maybe you’re familiar with the feeling of having a cold coming on. As you get ready for bed one night, you notice your nose is running. Or you have a sore throat. You prepare to wake up in the morning feeling awful. And then you don’t. Your immune system has fought it off.

Our immune systems do a lot of unseen work. And perhaps because it is unseen, we take it for granted most of the time. However, if you want it always to be there, you need to do what you can to keep your immune system at its best. There is a lot that you can do, too.

Habits – Do you smoke? If you do, there is a higher chance of that cold you feel starting flowering into a full-blown snot fest. Smoking damages your immune system – as does breathing second-hand smoke. So if you know a smoker, see if you can persuade them to quit.

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Exercise – If you’re thinking a lot about your health, maybe you already get plenty of exercise. But on the off-chance you don’t, start. Exercising regularly will help strengthen all the different parts of your system that combine to keep you immune.

Mood – This can be quite a harsh one. Some people, by sheer bad luck, are prone to low moods through depression. That’s a separate medical issue which needs to be looked at on its own merits. However, if you’re just feeling a bit “meh”, change something. Spend half an hour watching cat videos online. If you’re smiling and laughing, it helps your immune system.

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Sleep – We all know about the importance of sleep for general health and wellness. It helps you recover from illness quicker, and stops you from making poor decisions when over-tired. Also, six to seven hours of sleep a night will allow your immune system to rebuild and recover. That’s part of the reason you go to bed thinking you’re getting a cold, and wake up fine.

Diet – Of course. A sound diet is essential for a healthy life, we all know that. But what you eat can directly affect your immune system. Lemons, for example, are a significant contributor. You may not like them, but try to learn. If you’re dubious, then convince yourself. Sources like these reasons from The Alternative Daily may be helpful. Other foods that help include red peppers, garlic, and ginger.

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Being Social – It’s not easy for all of us, I know. If you’re an introverted kind of person, you don’t like to be around that many people. However, it does help build a healthy immune system.

Rather than sitting quietly, interacting with others helps keep us active. Perhaps more importantly, it gives us exposure to germs. That may sound bad but, like our bodies in general, our immune system gets stronger from being tested. Think of it as a needle-free vaccination.

Water – It cannot be said often enough that water is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. We know of all its benefits for looking young and feeling fresh. It helps your immune system too, as it flushes away toxins and helps our bodies produce lymph. That’s a super useful chemical that carries nutrients and white blood cells around the body.

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Stress – Unlike the other items on this list, this isn’t something you need more of! Keeping stress to a minimum will allow your immune system to flourish. You know how you push yourself to hit a deadline, submit the finished work and then immediately you’ve got a cold? That’s not for no reason. Through sheer force of will, you keep going until the deadline.

Then? You involuntarily relax and in creeps the nasty stuff. When you’re particularly stressed, you don’t allow yourself a moment and this feeds it. So anytime you’re dealing with a lot, make a point of taking time out to just breathe the air for awhile. Decompress – it’s good for you.

If at any point you find yourself feeling especially run down – but not necessarily ill – it’s a warning. When you’re feeling weak, so is your immune system. Let it be a sign to you that you need to do more of the things your immune system needs. You may not feel like exercising, but a brisk walk can help. A cigarette will not. Make yourself laugh – at this point, a 45-minute stand-up routine probably beats any pill you can take.

Overall you’ve got a lot to thank your immune system for. As I say, it’s one of those things you take for granted. Sports fans say that you can tell when an umpire or referee is great because you don’t notice they’re there. Your immune system is like your body’s referee. When it’s in perfect working order, you’ll barely even think about it. It’s when it lets something go that your attention gets grabbed.

A final word in light of all of this. If you do most of what you’re supposed to do and still find yourself getting ill, do go and see a doctor. It may be the case that you have a compromised immune system. There is a range of possible reasons for this – only when you know why can you know what to do about it.

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