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The Worst Self-Care Habits That Destroy Your Immunity, Experts Say

Try to avoid weakening your immune system by making these well-intentioned mistakes.

Life moves pretty fast. On a day-to-day basis, the average adult constantly juggles a delicate routine of balancing work, play, and everything in between. Consequently, many among us feel we just don't have the time to properly practice self-care.

That trend may be in the process of changing, however, as various surveys indicate more and more Americans are coming around to the idea that self-care is a necessity, not an option. This poll from about a year ago reports the whirlwind year that was 2020 led to 73% of Americans realizing they needed to take better care of themselves. Similarly, an even more recent survey of 2,000 U.S. adults finds the pandemic sparked a personal health "self-awakening" among seven in 10 Americans.

Now, you may be asking yourself what exactly "self-care" really entails. Many may visit their local fast-food joint or spend an entire weekend on the couch and call it "self-care," but they would be missing the mark by a fairly wide margin.

"The worst self-care habit I've witnessed is people thinking over-indulgence is self-care," comments Lily Allen-Duenas, a certified yoga teacher, holistic health and wellness coach, and founder of Wild Yoga Tribe. "While it's important to be aware of and respond to your needs, it's even more important to not be over-permissive. When you are healthy and well, you shouldn't allow yourself to sleep for 12 hours each day and call it self-care, nor should you call a cupcake a day an act of self-care because you deserve to treat yourself."

To put it succinctly, self-care means prioritizing what your body needs, not what you want. Speaking of which, a robust immune system is an absolute necessity when it comes to maintaining strong overall health. Per Johns Hopkins Medicine, the immune system protects our bodies from viruses, toxins, bacteria, and fungi. What exemplifies self-care more than all that?

Unfortunately, many people who mistakenly think they are making good choices are actually shooting themselves in the foot from an immunity perspective. Read on to learn about some of the worst self-care habits that can be destroying your immunity, and correct your mistakes by following the best self-care habits that improve your immunity.

Being inactive

laying on couch

Tons of people justify a lazy lifestyle by talking up the importance of rest and relaxation. It's certainly true that everyone needs some quality R&R, but at the same time, physical movement and exertion are major pillars of strong immunity.

"Not budgeting time for at least 20-30 minutes of movement or exercise each day can lead to a weakened immune system," explains NASM-certified fitness professional Brock Davies, CEO of Homebody. "Exercise actually can enhance the body's production of antibodies and T-cells (white blood cells that fight disease)."

There's also plenty of scientific proof to back up the claim that time spent away from the couch boosts immunity. This study published in BMC Public Health assessed over 1,400 adults and discovered that those who exercised at least three times per week were significantly (26%) less likely to come down with a cold.

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Neglecting sleep

Young woman drinking coffee at home in her bed and checking her laptop, top view

We all know what it's like to have a packed schedule. By the time bedtime rolls around, you find yourself wishing there were more hours in each day. Tons of people choose to burn the midnight oil as a means of getting more done, but trading sleep for productivity is an exchange that seriously harms the immune system.

"The absolute worst thing you can do that will weaken your immune system is not to get enough sleep," says Robert Herbst, PT, and 19-time World Champion powerlifter. "While getting seven-and-a-half hours a night is recommended, getting six or less will wear you down and impair your immunity. It will lower your immune response as well as make you weak and prone to injury in other ways such as not enabling you to recover from exercise,"

Still not convinced a set bedtime is for you? Consider this research published in Behavioral Sleep Medicine. Researchers report college students struggling with insomnia and irregular sleep patterns were much more at risk of developing influenza than their fellow classmates regularly getting adequate shuteye.

"Not getting enough sleep is also usually coupled with other bad habits that impair your immune system such as staying out too late partying, working too long and hard, and eating calorie-dense, nutrient-light junk food to keep you going. Together, it's a horrible combination which will likely lead to illness," Herbst adds.

Related: One Major Side Effect Not Sleeping Enough Has on Weight Gain, Say Experts

Ignoring stress levels

woman stressed at her desk

As much as we all would love to dodge it completely, stress is unavoidable. Life can be unpredictable, and when unexpected events occur, stress usually isn't far behind. It's important to understand that while pursuing complete stress avoidance is a fool's errand, stress management is a much healthier and realistic approach—especially from an immunity perspective.

"Not all stress is bad stress, but it can become disruptive if we don't manage it. Research has shown psychological stress is associated with increased susceptibility to the common cold and weakens the immune system over time if not properly managed," notes Paul Kriegler, PT and dietician for Life Time Fitness.

According to the scientific journal Current Opinion in Psychology, when we're habitually on edge with no way of de-stressing, it leads to an unhealthy build-up of the hormone cortisol within the body. In low levels, cortisol is actually quite beneficial, but when it sticks around for too long in especially high quantities, it can be a major impediment to proper immune functioning.

If you're looking for some new ways to de-stress, Kriegler suggests trying activities including meditation, spending more time with friends and family, or even something as simple as watching a funny or comforting movie.

Related: The #1 Best Exercise for Fighting Stress, Says Expert

Too much time inside

shop from the couch

There's nothing wrong with staying home, especially right now. That being said, be sure to get outside and soak in some sun for at least a few minutes. Getting outside benefits the immune system in a few different ways. To start, vitamin D is essential to proper immune functioning, and our bodies naturally produce vitamin D upon exposure to sunlight.

This research published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine states "deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity and an increased susceptibility to infection."

Yet another reason to get outside on a daily basis for your immunity is the impact of nature on immune strength. This study published in Frontiers in Psychology finds spending more time around greenery, nature, and wildlife may improve bodily protection against a long list of health issues including but not limited to cancer, obesity, and heart disease.

Related: One Major Effect Exercise Has on Your Happiness

Dry fasting

man drinking water

If you're considering trying out a "dry fasting" routine, don't. This recent diet fad that involves avoiding all water for hours on end is dangerous on a number of levels, and can wreak havoc on the immune system to boot.

"Dry fasting is an online trend that encourages others to avoid drinking water and only receive it through food that's high in water content such as fruits and vegetables. Not only does this destroy immunity, but leads to other health problems such as dehydration, kidney stones, and migraines, to name a few. Water helps remove the toxins from your body, so without it, your body is consistently building toxins that will lower your immunity," cautions Lance Herrington, Founder & CEO of UNICO Nutrition Inc. "This is a dangerous lifestyle trend that should be avoided at all costs."

For more, check out 3 Major Secrets to Living to 99, According to Betty White.

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more about John