By Alicia Potter
They survive cold season without a sniffle. They fly in germ-packed airplanes unscathed. And they somehow avoid stomach bugs that decimate the office.
Wish you could be one of these women who never get sick? Try one or-even better-all of these secrets, and you may join this club.
Get a massage
Most studies show that massage can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate-and lowering these is likely to cause your stress level to drop, one key to building immunity. "Decreasing stress increases your immune cells," says Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute of the University of Miami School of Medicine.
Make massage work for you: Any type of rubdown is fine, as long as you ask for moderate pressure, Field says. The therapist's touch should be vigorous enough to move or indent skin but not so hard that it causes pain. How often do you need one? There's no science on that, but experts say once a month (or more) is worthwhile. Check with your insurance provider to see if massage therapy is covered. If cost is an issue, check out massage schools, which sometimes offer discounted services. You can take matters into your own hands, too, by showering with a stiff, natural-bristle brush; like moderate-pressure massage, this stimulates pressure receptors under the skin, Field says. And couples who massage each other for 10 minutes a few times a week can reap significant benefits, Field adds.
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Take a cold shower
The scientific jury's still out on cold showers, but Mary Ann Bauman, MD, author of Fight Fatigue: Six Simple Steps to Maximize Your Energy, says there's no harm in trying. Devotees claim cold showers help with low energy, migraines, circulation, and pain reduction, in addition to enabling women to age gracefully. (Some even argue that they're the French woman's secret to firm breasts.)
Make cold showers work for you: Try small doses. Limit 10-minute cold showers to summertime; in the winter, opt for a 1-minute blast at the end of a warm shower. Consult your doctor if you have cardiovascular problems, because the sudden chill can cause a spike in blood pressure.
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Take ginger for your GI
For centuries, ginger has been the go-to root for a wide range of GI distresses. Researchers believe its compounds stimulate digestive secretions, improve intestinal muscle tone, and help move food through the gastrointestinal tract.
It's also safe to take ginger in small doses (less than 1,000 milligrams) for a short period of time during pregnancy, says Joyce Frye, a doctor of osteopathy and clinical assistant professor at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Berry used it during both her pregnancies and had little morning sickness.
Make ginger work for you: Fresh ginger-sipped in tea or eaten straight-up-is best, says Sari Greaves, RD, of New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. But ginger in other forms (dried, powdered, cooked) can be effective too. Ginger ale? Most brands have little or no real ginger and lots of high-fructose corn syrup.
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Wash your hands
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say hand-washing is the number-one action you can take to dodge the 1 billion colds Americans come down with annually, not to mention bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses such as E. coli and salmonella.
Make hand-washing work for you: Wash with regular soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds (the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice). Vigorously scrub all parts of your hands, not just palms, and check your fingernails for trapped dirt. Dry with paper towels, or designate a hand towel for each member of your household. (They can reuse these several times.) And don't forget to wash after gardening, working out, and handling raw meat or fish.
Also, keep alcohol wipes or alcohol-based cleaning gel handy when using ATM machines and grocery carts, taking public transportation, and reading magazines in waiting rooms, says Neil Schachter, MD, director of respiratory care at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City. Alcohol kills bacteria and the viruses that cause colds. But don't use antibacterial and/or antimicrobial products: They have chemicals that can lead common bacteria to adapt and turn into superbugs.
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Eat more garlic
Garlic is rich in antioxidants that boost immunity and fight inflammation, says Carmia Borek, PhD, research professor in the department of public health and family medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. That means the herb, in addition to boosting defenses against everyday illness, probably helps to stave off cancer and boost heart health.
Make garlic work for you: If you're worried about bad breath and yucky burps, you're not alone. Those side effects aren't unusual, and experts warn that garlic can cause gas and acid reflux in some people. Still, up to two cloves a day is considered safe for most. Happily, there are options with fewer side effects. Aged-garlic extract is a great odor-free alternative, and it even has a higher concentration of the potent compounds that make garlic a superfood, Borek says. P.S.: Eating garlicky food can't hurt, but cooking depletes some of the pungent bulb's useful properties.
Health.com: Unleash the power of garlic
In one study, participants who had heightened activity in a region of the brain associated with a positive attitude produced greater amounts of flu antibodies. Another study showed that people with sunny dispositions churned out more antibodies in response to vaccinations. Researchers aren't clear on the connection, but they do know "the brain communicates with the immune system, and vice versa," says Anna L. Marsland, PhD, director of the Behavioral Immunology Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh. And a growing number of psychologists stress that focusing on wellness, as opposed to illness, can have good results.
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Make positive thinking work for you: If you don't always think positively, experts say, you can at least learn to be less negative. Don't dwell on your symptoms when you do get sick, and try not to assume the worst (like telling yourself, "I always get sick this time of year" or "This cold blows the whole week"). Practice focusing on your strengths and how you feel when you use them. Slowly, you'll recognize that these feelings are more rewarding than negative feelings. "You probably can't change your personality," Marsland says, "but you can change your behavior." Odds are, you'll join the ranks of the perennially healthy.
By Alicia Potter