By Curves

By Claire Kowalchik
Ever notice how after a really stressful period in your job or family life, you come down with a cold, the flu, or some other illness? Scientists have long pointed out that stress weakens the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness, and that chronic stress weakens our bodies in the face of serious diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, or cancer.

But don’t take this news lying down. Recent research shows that a healthy lifestyle may keep you strong and healthy under the battering of life’s difficulties.

Researchers at UC San Francisco collected data on physical activity, diet, sleep, and incidence of stressful events for 239 post-menopausal, non-smoking women over the course of a year. They learned that those women who were physically active, ate a nutritious diet, and slept well had stronger cells under stress than those whose lifestyles were less healthy.

Besides proper exercise, diet and sleep, why not strengthen yourself against stress with a hug?

In a study out of Carnegie Mellon University, researchers, recognizing that the stress of ongoing personal conflict weakens immunity and makes people more susceptible to sickness, wanted to find out if the opposite—if feeling support from friends or family–would have a protective effect against stress-induced illness. They asked 404 healthy adults to fill out a questionnaire about their feelings of social support and then interviewed them over 14 consecutive days about the number of interpersonal conflicts they experienced as well as the number of hugs they had received. Then, the researchers intentionally exposed the volunteers to a cold virus. The result? Those who received more hugs and felt more social support were less likely to get sick, or if they did catch the bug, suffered fewer symptoms than men and women who reported fewer hugs and less support.