As the temperature drops and we stay indoors more, and so do the bacteria and viruses that can cause the common cold and influenza. Cold and flu season may be just around the corner, but it’s not too late to strengthen your immunity and stand up to those invisible threats. The best strategy is to ensure that your entire system is strong, and that you are well fortified from within. The focus should be on your entire body because your immune system isn’t an independent unit, like a finger you can put a band-aid on. It’s a system that’s dependent upon, and influenced by many factors. If you take steps to support and strengthen your whole system, your body is much more able to defend itself against invaders and keep you feeling well - a healthier you makes a healthier immune system.
Here are some strategies to ramp up your system before (and during) cold and flu season:
Good nutrition gives your body the fuel to fight off infections. Start now to be in top condition before the season starts. Focus on the basics: lean protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as whole grains. Not only are lean proteins a good source of immune boosting nutrients like zinc, but your body uses the protein you eat to build other proteins, including the antibodies you need to fight off viruses and bacteria. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains give you a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that also help get your system in top shape. Eat a variety to give yourself well-rounded nutrition.
Willing to go the extra mile? Spice up your meals with garlic, ginger, or turmeric. All are known for their immune boosting properties. Or explore fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, or kombucha which all pack a powerful probiotic punch. Probiotics help give balance to your gut bacteria, which are important players in a healthy immune system.
We think that dehydration is a warm-weather problem? You might be surprised to know how easy it is to become dehydrated in the winter. The cold actually reduces your body’s thirst response, and you lose fluids in ways you may not even realize. Does it feel like the cold, dry air is sucking the moisture out of your skin? Well…It is. And you’re probably drinking less water than in warmer months. When the temperatures drop we may be tempted to reach for hot drinks to soothe us (coffee, anyone?) Enjoy, but skip the caffeine. Caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks actually dehydrate you. Your best bets for optimal hydration are water, herbal or decaffeinated teas. Decaf tea hydrates and also contains antioxidants. Herbal teas are a great option, and some like ginger, echinacea, and ginseng which encourage your immune system.
Exercise may not seem like an obvious immune booster, but it contributes by improving circulation and supporting good health in general. It also helps get your lymphatic system moving, which helps detoxify your body and produces immune cells. Walking 30 minutes per day is enough for you to feel the benefits. If you can, walk outdoors for the added benefits of fresh air and sunshine, a natural source of vitamin D that helps regulate your immune system. Plus, the sun on your face just feels good!
Cold and flu season coincides with holiday party season. Spending time with our loved ones is good for us, but the downside of celebrating may be increased alcohol consumption and exposure to tobacco. Enjoy your friends and family — especially those you laugh with. But keep an eye on your habits (and those around you). Smoking and drinking alcohol both impair your body’s immune response. The chemicals in tobacco smoke weaken your immune system and damage your respiratory system, making you more susceptible to infections. Alcohol temporarily slows down your body’s ability to respond to bacteria and can negatively affect your sleep. Excessive drinking has a negative effect on your immune response. If you do drink alcohol, consider alternating with water to stay hydrated. As far as tobacco and second-hand smoke goes, there is no safe level.
Stress and sleep deprivation both increase your body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol levels stay elevated, your immune system suffers, and you are more likely to get sick. There are a number of healthy ways to decrease your cortisol level this time of year. Fostering good relationships, volunteering, spending time with loved ones, and laughing all help. Good nutrition and exercise do as well. Practices like yoga or mindfulness can help you control your stress responses, see the big picture, and appreciate the world around you. Your immune system will reap the benefits.
Cold and flu season is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to get you down. Bolstering your immune system before and during the season can help your body battle the bacteria and viruses. Even if you do catch a bug, a stronger immune system can help make the symptoms more manageable and help you recover faster.