Boost Your Immune System for Better Health

Health and WellnessThe immune system is the body’s defense against infection and disease.  It’s made up of special cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body and keep it healthy.  When the immune system isn’t working as it should, the body is left vulnerable.  As we age, our immune system response becomes reduced, leading to increased infections and less ability to fight them.  It is important to do what we can to strengthen our immune system so that it can do its job effectively.  Here are ways to boost your immune system for better health.

Develop Smart Eating Habits

Eat more fruits and vegetables to give the body needed nutrients.  Blueberries, blackberries, and broccoli contain antioxidants that can improve immune health.  Foods rich in vitamin C, including citrus and bell peppers, and those high in vitamin A, such as sweet potatoes and kale, are especially helpful to the immune system.  Yogurt contains probiotics that can keep the gut and intestinal tract healthy.  Salmon and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which reduce inflammation in the body.

Get Enough Sleep

The body responds better to fighting infection when it is well rested.  According to the CDC, adults generally need 7-9 hours of sleep each night, teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep, and school age children require 9-12 hours of shut eye.  To improve sleep habits, keep a consistent schedule for going to bed and getting up.  Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.  Exercising during the day can help us sleep better.  Turning off electronic devices (computer, phone, TV) at bedtime is also a good practice.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise improves circulation, lowers blood pressure, helps control weight, and helps alleviate stress.  All these factors can help boost the immune system.  Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous.  Even a 30-minute daily walk can be helpful.  In addition, exercise during the day often leads to better sleep at night.

Reduce Stress

Many people find themselves overcommitted and stressed.  Slow down, relax, and connect with family or friends.  Listen to music.  Meditation or yoga is helpful for some people.  Take a walk or do some stretching exercises.  Reduce your caffeine intake.  Stop smoking.

Avoid Food Poisoning at Summer Picnics

avoid picnic food poisoningSummer is the time of year when many families enjoy an outdoor picnic.  They pack up the cooler and the picnic basket and head off for an afternoon at the park or the lake.  But nothing ruins a fun time and good memories like a bad case of food poisoning.

E. coli, salmonella, and listeria are bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses in humans. Symptoms of food poisoning can include abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Undercooked foods and foods not stored at proper temperatures are a breeding ground for these bacteria.  These types of infections can be particularly serious for children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems.  Remember that food spoilage is not always immediately evident by appearance or smell.

When transporting perishable foods to a picnic, they should be stored in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or freezer packs.  Perishable foods include meats like hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken.  In addition, keep deviled eggs and salads containing mayonnaise, such as potato or macaroni salad, in the cooler.  During the drive, the cooler should be kept in the air conditioned part of the car rather than the trunk.  Food should be kept in the cooler until ready to be used.  Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight.  Do not let food sit outside the cooler for more than one hour in summer heat.  Take a separate cooler for drinks, so the food cooler is not opened so frequently.

Wash hands thoroughly before handling food.  If running water is not available, use wet wipes or hand sanitizer.  When grilling meat, be sure to cook thoroughly.  Undercooked ground beef can contain E. coli.  Use a meat thermometer to ensure the cooked beef has reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.  Color does not always indicate doneness.  Meat juices should be clear, not red or pink.  To avoid contamination, never place cooked meat on the same plate that held the raw meat.  Use clean utensils for serving.  Although hot dogs are fully cooked, it’s best to reheat them before serving.

Leftover foods should be returned to the cooler.  Refrigerate them immediately after returning home.  Discard food that has become warm.  Bacteria in food can double every twenty minutes.  Better to be safe than sorry.

There are some healthy foods that are safer choices for picnics.  They include tossed salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, pickled vegetables, salsa, pasta salad without mayonnaise, whole grain crackers, and nuts or nut butters.

Tips to Enjoy a Healthy Summer Outdoors

Summer time is here.  Families want to be outdoors in the warm weather enjoying activities at the pool, the park, the ballfield, and other venues.  Follow these simple tips so that everyone has a safe and healthy summer season.

Stay Hydrated

Children and adults who are active outside in hot and humid weather must stay hydrated.  The best way to do that is by drinking water.  Other beverages are not good substitutes for water, and drinks containing alcohol and caffeine may actually contribute to dehydration.  Water helps to replenish the fluids our bodies lose when we sweat and urinate.  Don’t wait until you feel thirsty.  Drink some water every 15-20 minutes when active outside in the heat.summer sun protection

Prevent Sunburn    

Sunburn puts us at risk for developing skin cancer and contributes to premature aging of the skin.  Try to limit outdoor activities during the middle of the day, when the sun’s rays are strongest.  Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays.  The SPF number measures how well the sunscreen protects skin compared to not wearing it.  The higher the SPF number, the better the protection.  SPF 15 may be adequate for limited sun exposure but use SPF 30 or higher for prolonged periods outside.  A water resistant product is a good option when swimming or if perspiring heavily.  Reapply the sunscreen often.

Protect your eyes from sun damage by wearing sunglasses outside.  A hat offers sun protection for the scalp, ears, and neck.  Some clothing is made of fabric with UV protection.  This works well for people with fair or sensitive skin types.

Avoid Insect Bites

Insect bites are more than just a summer annoyance.  Some insects, like mosquitoes and ticks, carry disease.  Mosquitoes are most active in early morning, dusk, and at night.  To prevent exposure to mosquitoes, wear long pants and long sleeved shirts.  Use insect repellent on exposed skin.  Some parents may choose to avoid using repellents containing DEET on their children.  Natural products are not as effective, so reapply them more often.  After walking in the woods or through tall grass, check yourself and your children for any ticks that may have attached to the body.  Remove ticks with tweezers and wash the bite with soap and water.  Wipe with alcohol to prevent infection.  Most insect repellents work on ticks as well as mosquitoes.

What Causes a Sore Throat?

A sore throat is one of the most common reasons people stay home from work or their children miss school.  There are several causes for a sore throat.  An infection could be present, or a sore throat might be a symptom of seasonal allergies.  A mild sore throat can usually be treated at home without seeing the doctor.  Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or throat lozenges will often help with the pain.  However, if the sore throat is severe and is accompanied by fever, a visit to the doctor is in order.
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February is National Heart Month

The American Heart Association has designated February as National Heart Month.  This draws awareness to the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.  One in four people die from heart disease, and the risk increases as we age.  Blockages made up of plaque in the arteries or a blood clot cut off blood flow to parts of the heart, leading to heart attacks.
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It’s Not Too Late for a Flu Shot

If you did not get a flu shot in the fall, it’s not too late!  There is still time to protect yourself and your family.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, flu cases are on the rise across the U.S.  The flu is widespread in 46 states, including Georgia.  Flu is easily spread through entire families and results in lost time from work and school.
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Don’t Let the Holidays Derail Healthy Eating

Holidays are a fun time of the year for most of us.  We look forward to parties, gatherings with family and friends, and other special events.  Unfortunately, all the extra goodies and alcohol consumed over the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can derail our healthy eating habits.  We end up having to shed unwanted pounds in January.  Here are some tips to help you enjoy the holidays and stay on track with healthy eating.
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The Salt Shaker- Friend or Foe?

The table salt in our salt shakers is a combination of the minerals sodium and chloride.  Salt is commonly used as a seasoning when foods are prepared and eaten.  Unfortunately, the amount of sodium that typical Americans consume in their diets is becoming a health issue for many.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium be consumed per day.  Certain groups of people, including those with high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease, should limit their intake to 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.  Children and adults over the age of 50 also need less sodium.  Diets that are high in sodium put people at risk for developing hypertension, heart disease, kidney stones, and osteoporosis.
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Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Most of us know someone who has been affected by the disease.  Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 237,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available.  This disease strikes women in every racial and ethnic group, and even a small number of men.   The risk increases with age, and 85% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history.
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What Is Shingles, and Should I Get the Vaccine?

Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus.  Anyone who has ever had the chickenpox has the virus in their body.  The virus may remain dormant for years until something triggers it.  Then a painful rash will appear on the body, causing discomfort for up to several weeks.
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