The flu season is upon us; it always accompanies the sugar season.

The flu season is upon us; it always accompanies the sugar season. We are told we need to have vaccinations to prevent sickness. Have you heard any statistics comparing the number of those who have shots and get the flu and those who do not get the shots? Many people have chosen not to get the shots because they have decided it is best to avoid the flu using lifestyle changes which will also make them healthier in other ways.

Your lifestyle may affect how well your immune system can protect you from germs, viruses, and chronic illness more effectively than shots. It has kept you alive all your life and it makes sense to boost it so that it can continue to do its job. Replacing bad health habits with good ones can boost immunity.

To help keep aches, sniffles, and sneezes at bay get plenty of sleep. You are more likely to catch a cold or other infection when your body is not getting adequate rest. Research has shown that sleep boosts the immune system; seven to nine hours for an adult is key for good health. When students at the University of Chicago were limited to only four hours of sleep for six nights and then given a flu shot, their immune systems made only half the normal number of antibodies. Not getting enough sleep can lead to higher levels of stress hormone which sets your body up for more inflammation.Regular exercise can help your immune system fight infection. A 30-minute walk a day can help keep you healthy during the flu season.Stress that drags on can make you sick with everything from colds and flu to serious chronic illness. Everyone experiences stress and research has shown that people who learn to deal with it effectively have a stronger immune system and remain healthier. Meditation and practicing relaxation techniques have proven to strengthen immune health. Mayo Clinic recognizes this connection and they provide patients with relaxation CDs. In one experiment, people who meditated over and 8-week period made more antibodies than people who didn't meditate and they showed an increased immune system response four months later. A steady stream of stress hormones weaken immunity. However, you can get good at managing it. You can learn to meditate; you can make a conscious effort to slow down; connect with other people; and exercise can help you blow off steam. Easing stress lowers levels of stress hormones, which results in better sleep, and immune function. Laughing curbs the levels of stress hormones in your body and boosts white blood cells that fight infection. Find something to laugh about every day. Researchers aren't sure if it's actually the act of laughing that makes people feel better. A good sense of humor, a positive attitude, and the support of friends and family might play a role, too. Robert R. Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation writes, "The definitive research into the potential health benefits of laughter just hasn't been done yet." We may not know for sure that laughter helps people feel better, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Taking a good probiotic can help your immune system by making sure you have adequate beneficial bacteria in your intestinal tract. Good intestinal bacteria is destroyed by antibiotics (they take the good with the bad), stress and poor diet. When you have inadequate healthy bacteria, sickness causing bacteria can take over. Recently probiotics have gained publicity and sales have accelerated; but many on the market are of poor quality. Some have little active culture and they contain cheap fillers. You usually get what you pay for. Inform yourself! I have seen probiotics improve health more than any other supplement. Using poor quality probiotics, purchased at discount stores, gives them a bad reputation and people conclude that probiotics don't work. All supplements are not created equal! Good health costs less than sickness! It feels a lot better too.We don't like to hear it but the evidence doesn't lie. Sugar suppresses the immune system and makes you vulnerable to every virus or infection that is floating around. Dr. William Sears, author of several parenting books and considered the trusted resource for parents, writes, "An overdose of sugar. Eating or drinking 100 grams (8 tbsp.) of sugar, the equivalent of two- and-a-half 12-ounce cans of soda, can reduce the ability of white blood cells to kill germs by 40 percent. The immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than thirty minutes after ingestion and may last for five hours." Is it any wonder the flu happens this time of year? Fresh vegetables and fruits are your best bet if you want to beat the bugs.What is good for your health in general, is also good for your immune system.(Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, and wrote a weekly column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at