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Good Question: Are Some Immune Systems Stronger Than Others?

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(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
Heather Brown loves to put her innate curiosity to work to answer yo...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Whether it’s at work or in our personal lives, it seems some people just tend to get sick more often than others.

Most of us work with someone who’s never taken a sick day, while others use all of them up every year.

And what about those rarely-sick parents with kids in daycare?

That had us wondering: Why are some people’s immune systems stronger than others?

“You can stack the cards in your favor,” said Dr. Courtney Baechler, the chief wellness officer for Allina Medical Clinic.

She says the difference in immune systems among healthy people doesn’t have anything do with genetics, but rather depends how we live our lives. An exception to that theory would be people who have chronic illnesses, like asthma, diabetes or heart disease, which can compromise an immune system. Smoking can also make people much more likely to get sick, because a smoker has a hard time expelling unhealthy stuff in their lungs.

“Sleep is the best thing and the most free thing we can do to promote immunity,” Baechler said.

She says deep REM sleep restores the cells we were born with to fight off viruses.

Michelle Ferguson of Minneapolis knows that well. She says she gets sick often.

“I don’t fall asleep until a few hours before I wake up and then I wake up tired, feel horrible all day and then I get sick,” she said.

Exercise is also important thing for a person’s immune system.

“We’re actually getting rid of toxins in our body, so sweat is a great way to get rid of things we don’t need,” Baechler said.

Eating the right foods with proper vitamins can also make a huge difference. Katie Mangan of Minneapolis about that. She hasn’t taken a sick day since she started her new job in the summer of 2012.

“I’m kind of anal when it comes to getting enough sleep, eating the right things,” Katie said. “I get made fun of for being a grandma sometimes, but I’m fine with it.”

Baechler says stress can also be a trigger for viruses and colds.

“You’re in that constant state of fight or flight mode,” she said. “What happens is our nervous system gets all revved up kind of like a tiger chasing you and sends out these hormones that make it more likely we’ll get sick.”

Jason Stephens of Minneapolis says he only get sick once a year due to the power of positive thinking.

“I think it’s a mindset,” he said.

Baechler says there is some research that shows positive thinking can have an impact on our chemical health and its effect on our brain.

“There is something there,” she said. “It’s not as scientific as some of the other stuff we talk about, but there is something to be said about positive thinking.”

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