Ever notice how some people seem to be predisposed to coming down with illnesses, while others coast through the year with nary a sniffle or sneeze? What are the secrets of those seemingly perpetually healthy people? Are they just lucky—or are they doing something different than those who darken their doctors’ doorsteps on the regular?|
According to the experts, people who are rarely, if ever, under the weather likely share some common health-boosting behaviors.
They respect their circadian rhythms.
The circadian rhythm refers to the body’s 24-hour day and night cycle, explains Bart Wolbers, researcher and chief science writer at Alexfergus.com, which investigates the scientific validity of different health interventions. "Every cell in the body is affected by that rhythm," says Wolbers. "The light in your environment – and the interrelated sleep and wake cycles – are responsible for the proper functioning of that rhythm."
To reduce your overall disease risk—not only for more complex problems like heart disease or diabetes, but also the common cold—Wolbers recommends going to bed at roughly the same time every night, even on the weekends. "Late nights out, sleeping in on the weekend and working erratic shifts will damage your health over time, and there's no known solution to deal with these disruptions," he warns.
They correct nutritional imbalances.
While many people eat sufficient calories, the same is not true for vitamins and minerals, says Wolbers. According to research, almost 31 percent of the U.S. population is at risk for a minimum of one vitamin deficiency or anemia, 95 percent of adults get inadequate amounts of vitamin D and 32 percent are deficient in vitamin B6. "Nutritional deficiencies prevent your body from working properly and increase disease risk," says Wolbers.
To stay as sick-proof as possible, eat a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet that includes green, leafy vegetables and a sufficient amount of vitamin D, both of which boost the immune system. If your sun exposure is limited, you may need to add a vitamin D supplement.
It’s also important to include plenty of protein-rich foods, as protein is an essential building block of immune cells, notes Heidi Moretti, MS, RD with The Healthy RD. "Protein-rich foods like meats are also rich in zinc, which contributes to immune function," she adds.
They are their own advocates for proper healthcare and nutrition.
Beyond maintaining a generally healthy diet, it’s important to eat right for your individual system, says Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, advisor and consultant for Cyrex Laboratories, a clinical immunology laboratory specializing in functional immunology and autoimmunity testing. "Everybody responds to different foods in unique ways," he said. "If we are exposed to something that our body is sensitive to, it can weaken our immune system or trigger a negative autoimmune response."
If you already know that certain foods don’t sit well with you, try to avoid them during the flu-laden, vulnerable time of year, Dr. Larson suggests. And if you suspect you may have sensitivities to foods or an autoimmune response to them, consider speaking with a medical professional about food reactivity testing.
They get moving.
Most people who rarely get sick are fairly active—but that doesn’t have to mean grueling gym sessions. As Wolbers points out, the key word is "move," not "exercise." (In fact, he says, very intense exercise can be a stressor on the body.) Wolbers says it’s best to move as much as you can all day. Take the stairs. Bike to your job. Take a walk during your break. Do some squats every hour or so if you work in an office.
"The longer you sit or stand each day, the higher your disease risk becomes," Wolbers says. "Rather than spending hours upon hours behind your desk without moving, get up once an hour for a short, active break."
They prioritize sleep.
Extreme sleep deprivation doesn’t just result in fatigue, irritability and lack of focus—it also increases your risk of getting common illnesses, says Wolbers. It can also make you more susceptible to more complex diseases, such as Alzheimer's, heart disease and diabetes.
"Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise for your overall health," he says. "For the bulk of individuals, eight hours a night is needed."
They go with their gut.
Diet and gut health both play a vital role in keeping the immune system operating efficiently, notes nutritionist Lisa Richards. "A diet rich in refined carbohydrates and other inflammatory foods will place the body in a state of heightened inflammation, which can dampen the effectiveness of the immune system overall."
These food types also lead to poor gut health, she explains, as bad bacteria feed off the sugar they produce. And when gut bacteria is out of balance, the immune system suffers.
"Gut health can be improved through two steps: integrating probiotics into your diet and avoiding foods that feed bad bacteria," says Richards.
They maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight or obese increases your risk for almost any disease, says Wolbers. "Many people who carry excess weight don't move enough, don't sleep enough (or have breathing problems during sleep) and have circadian rhythm disruptions," he explains.
By losing weight over time, you will also decrease your overall disease and mortality risk. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eat less and exercise more. "By focusing on developing healthy habits that pay off in the long run, you should be losing weight automatically," Wolbers points out.
While it may not be realistic to stay well 100 percent of the time, you can shrink your sick time by following these smart habits of perpetually healthy people.