Preparing for the Battle: Strategies to Optimize Immune System Functioning

by Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS, Coordinator of Fitness Programs, Drexel University Department of Athletics

With much of the globe gripped by panic concerning Ebola, I have been receiving a number of questions regarding keeping healthy as the colder weather and accompanying cold and flu season approach.

While Ebola antidotes reportedly exist, many of them have not yet made it to the clinical trial stage. In response to the fears of a globally paralyzing pandemic, government agencies and public health experts have purported that the likelihood of catching Ebola remains rather remote. While their suppositions remain up for contention, the threat of falling victim to colds and flus during the colder portions of the year constantly looms.

As the weather grows crisp, the masses, especially those leading active lifestyles retire to temperature controlled environments to continue activities or to resume exercise. For those living in parts of the country above 30 degrees latitude, you’ll notice runners disappearing from trails and sidewalks and fewer events scheduled outdoors. Save for fall sport playoffs and obligatory yard work, most people spend their time indoors, often in close proximity with others, giving rise to the proliferation of illness- causing pathogens.

The body innately responds to threats, whether actual or perceived. In the case of an actual threat, such as the body coming in contact with a foreign antigen, or protein containing a virus or bacteria, the body’s immune system recognizes the threat and responds to it.

Lymphatic structures with the body, which prominently include the spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, and bone marrow, collectively secrete and subsequently deploy a combination of antibodies as well as, lympochytes, macrophages, dendritic cells, natural killer cells, B cells, T cells, and phagocytes to the external threat. Some of these constituents may be of familiarity, since they are also involved in the response of exercise, a deliberate stressor and incite an inflammatory response. Our survival hinges on the functioning of the immune system and the mechanisms it employs, which in addition to triggering an inflammatory response, also comprises attaching to, combating, and dissolving the foreign body.

However, external threats can be magnified if a person does not ascribe to sound nutritional, hygienic, sanitary, and stress management practices, which involve balancing stimulus and recovery.

Poor diets, particularly those consisting of trans fats and excessive saturated fats, may goad systemic inflammation, thus impeding immune system functioning. More inflammation equates to a less efficient immune system. Excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates weakens gut health, which cannot be overlooked, since the digestive tract is heavily lined with antibody-producing lymphatic tissue.

Poor hygiene and sanitary practices elevate susceptibility to illness causing pathogens.

An imbalance between imposed stress and recovery, whether the origin of stress is physiological or psychological, may also degrade immune system functioning.

If avoiding the common cold or preventing the transmission of the yearly flu are goals, the following guidelines, rooted in common sense, should be helpful.

Immediate Preventative Measures

  1. Cleanse hands frequently throughout the day, preferably with antibacterial soap and warm water. Alcohol based hand sanitizers will also suffice. For those suffering from dermatological issues, such as dry skin, many antibacterial soaps and alcohol based hand sanitizers are infused with moisturizing solutions.
  2. Disinfect equipment and surfaces prior to and following use.
  3. Equipment and surfaces which appear to be covered in bodily fluids should also be cleaned and if this is observed at a public or corporate owned facility, specific laws and procedures involving health and safety must be adhered to. As such, staff members should be notified immediately.
  4. Those working with the public in a non-essential capacity, such as a personal trainer, should advise customers, or clients, to refrain from meeting with them if they are ill.
  5. Avoid touching face, including eyes, nose, mouth, and ears throughout the day and use facial tissues when coughing or sneezing. Soiled facial tissues should be disposed of immediately following use, and if available, soap and/or sanitizer should be used to cleanse the hands or area of the body producing or making contact with bodily fluids.

Longer-term Preventative Measures

  1. Individuals should view exercise as a stressor and should adjust their training accordingly, if they are juggling competing demands, both physiologically and psychologically based. Progressions in exercise intensity and volume should be gradual. Those partaking in activities involving endurance training are at an increased risk of respiratory illnesses and should be especially mindful of their volume.
  2. If an individual is not exercising, they should strongly consider commencing an exercise program, as exercise, more broadly, physical activity has been linked to hastening the turnover of illnesses that the body comes in contact with by way of streamlining digestive, urinary, and cooling mechanisms of the body. Long term exercise also boosts the release of antibodies and triggers a greater release of white blood cells from the spleen. Also, the thermogenic environment created by exercise may blunt bacterial growth, similar to a the effects of a fever.

Immediate Supportive Measures

  1. If stricken with an illness, including a bacteria or virus, it is advisable that medical attention be sought.
  2. Exercise should be avoided if symptoms include: headache, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and bleeding
  3. Exercise intensity and volume should be significantly reduced, at least initially, if cold-like symptoms including runny nose, coughing, and profuse sweating are experienced.
  4. Symptomatic individuals should avoid traversing public places or areas populated by many people, if possible.
  5. Since activity is reduced, so should energy intake, especially those containing simple, sugary carbohydrates, which are often utilized to fuel intense, glycolytically dependent exercise.
  6. Consumption of foodstuffs and beverages containing antioxidants, minerals (zinc), and vitamins (B and C), as well Echinacea may support the immune system in fighting off illnesses.





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Fight Fall Allergies by Visiting the Farmer’s Market

Ever wonder how you can beat your allergies by eating or avoiding certain foods? What you eat can play a powerful role in your health. Check out this article for more information on what to eat to beat fall allergies.


fall food

And while you’re at it, stop by Drexel’s Farmers Market! Every Tuesday at Chestnut Square.

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Beat the Summer Heat Safely

Ever wonder if summer is ever going to end?

Medicine Net offers 15 tips to stay cool safely. From exercise program alterations to sunblock to increasing your water intake, learn new tips and review time-tested favorite ways to beat the summer heat!


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Beat the Summer Heat and Stay Safe

With temperatures rising as the Summer starts to find its peak, be sure to stay healthy in the sun. Check out this great article from the American Heart Association about staying healthy and active in the summer sun!

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Walking can give your brain a boost!

New research shows that walking WHILE WORKING can improve brain performance! Consider having a meeting in motion next time you need to think through a project.

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In April 2014, Drexel University was named the very first employer in the Greater Philadelphia Region to receive the American Heart Association’s competitive “Workplace Innovation Award.” This award, which recognizes workplaces that provide fresh perspectives on wellness, was received in recognition of A Healthier U’s nutrition initiatives, including the Selections program and our brand new Dragon Nutrition initiative for benefits-eligible faculty and professional staff.

The Healthier U “Selections” program has grown exponentially and continues growing. This initiative helps anyone dining on campus to identify healthier menu options through the Healthier U website, or directly through the recently-launched Selections app, available for android or iPhone. We are proud to offer approximately 150 menu items at 10 campus dining locations. While this program initially only included Drexel-based dining locations such as the Market located in the Northside Dining Terrace, Market 16, and ThirtyOne41, we now also offer Selections items at popular franchises on campus including: Currito, Taco Bell, Starbucks, and Subway. Expanding to include these options provides increased variety for those dining on campus. More information about the Selections Program can be seen here.

Dragon Nutrition is receiving much buzz around campus. This opportunity for free nutrition counseling with a Drexel University Registered Dietician (RD) allows for benefits-eligible faculty and professional staff to receive a series of three free nutrition counseling sessions with a RD. Those who have signed up already are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to meet with a RD one-on-one and to have their individual nutritional needs addressed. Additional information about Dragon Nutrition can be seen here.

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Dr Dan Gottlieb to Visit Drexel April 29th!

Tuesday April 29th, Behrakis Grand Hall, Creese Student Center, 12-1:30pm

A Healthier U, the Office of Equality and Diversity and the Office of Disability Resources invites you to join us for a special talk with NPR radio host, Dr. Daniel Gottlieb of “Voices in the Family.”

Babies and toddlers are born with the ability to experience love, joy and compassion, and the ability to experience awe in the ordinary. By the time children are in middle school, this “wisdom” begins to go underground. And by the time we reach adulthood, we find ourselves too busy doing too many things. What happened to that joy and shameless love? This talk will touch upon how we can be in touch with the natural joy and compassion that is a basic component of being alive.

Daniel Gottlieb has been practicing psychology and psychotherapy for over 40 years. For 34 of those years he has done so from the unique perspective of a quadriplegic with a learning disability, history of depression and the traumatic death of his sister. As a result of being broken and broken open, he has unique insights into what it means to be human and into the wisdom we are all born with.

“The Wisdom We’re Born With: Restoring Our Faith in Ourselves” is open to all Drexel faculty, professional staff, and students. No RSVP is needed. Contact Monica Fauble for more information.

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Save the Date! Drexel Health and Wellness Fair

A Healthier U and the Drexel Recreation Center present the 5th annual

Health and Wellness Fair

Wednesday, April 2, 2012

11 am to 1 pm

Drexel Recreation Center Lobby, 33rd and Market Streets

Students, faculty, and professional staff are invited to attend and take advantage of a wide variety of services offered by health and wellness vendors, including:

  • Free blood pressure, vision, and skin cancer screenings
  • Free 5 Minute Fit screenings, courtesy of Personal Training
  • Free mini-massages
  • Free healthy snacks from the Healthier U Selections menu
  • Visit and chat with Drexel vendors
  • Visit five  or more vendors and enter to win our annual raffle

This event will also be a great opportunity for faculty and professional staff to speak with representatives from Fidelity, Vanguard, TIAA-CREF, Independence Blue Cross and Drexel physicians and health professionals. Students can take advantage of the opportunity to meet with Aetna or the Drexel Counseling Center.

The Health and Wellness Fair is open to students, faculty, and professional staff. For more information contact Monica Fauble:


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Go Red for Women! Women and Heart Health

Do you know what causes heart disease in women? What about the survival rate? Or whether women of all ethnicities share the same risk?

The fact is: Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. That’s approximately one woman every minute!

But it doesn’t affect all women alike, and the warning signs for women aren’t the same in men. What’s more: These facts only begin to scratch the surface.

There are a several misconceptions about heart disease in women, and they could be putting you at risk. The American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women movement advocates for more research and swifter action for women’s heart health for this very reason. In this section, we’ll arm you with the facts and dispel some myths – because the truth can no longer be ignored.

Read more about women and heart health here.

Have a safe and happy Valentine’s Day on behalf of A Healthier U!

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Philadelphia Named Nation’s Most Walkable City!

NBC 10 recently profiled Philadelphia as one of the top five most walkable cities in America! Check out this great article! And don’t forget to stop by one of Drexel’s awesome weekly walking clubs!

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