Today we are giving you 6 ways to boost your immune system so you can get through this winter without getting the dreaded cold or flu!
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I don’t know about where you are, but here it seems like everyone is coming down with something, and I am definitely trying to avoid joining them! Whether you’re working in an office, have kiddos in school, or travel frequently, you’re probably being exposed to cold and flu germs on the daily. So what can you do to avoid catching what everyone else has? Today we are giving you 6 ways to boost your immune system, because a strong immune system is your best insurance policy against the cold and flu this winter!
Get Adequate Rest and Hydration
Rest. I know, I know, I sound like a broken record. But we cannot over-stress how important rest is! So much of the time, we prioritize everything over our sleep, but in reality it should always be at the top of our list! During sleep, while we get to enjoy the stillness, our body is hard at work. Our bodies are working fervently to heal, correct, and repair everything we threw at them that day. Our immune system is also ferociously working to scavenge anything that may be trying to get in and infect. When we sleep, our brain triggers the release of hormones which promote tissue growth (hence the repair that occurs). We also make more white blood cells when we sleep (which are the front-line warriors of our immune system that help fight infection).
Hydration. Yep, we’ll say it again and again. Hydration is crucial for many things, and it is absolutely vital for our immune systems, that’s why when you’re sick one of the first things you’ll hear from your doctor is to drink plenty of fluids. Staying on top of our hydration can help fight infection. Hydration also plays a large role in our mucus membranes: staying adequately hydrated helps our mucus membranes stay moist, ready to trap any virus or bug that may try to sneak in through the nasal passages. By trapping dirt, allergens, viruses and bacteria, our mucus membranes are preventing them from getting further into our system. Adequate hydration also helps keep our body temperature regulated as well as rids our body of waste (which means it is flushing out germs, bacteria, viruses, and more).
Eat a Diet that Works Well for YOUR Body
Eating a whole foods diet that is free from your personal dietary triggers is great for natural cold and flu prevention. Inflammation occurs when we are sick, when we injure ourselves, and even after a strenuous workout as part of our body’s natural healing process. However, when you’re eating foods that don’t work for you, chronic inflammation can start to happen and begin to weaken your immune system. Once you figure out which foods work best for you and place the focus of your diet on real, whole foods it helps bring down systemic inflammation and stress naturally. If you haven’t quite narrowed down which foods work best for you, you can pick up a copy of my book where I lay out my signature 28-day program to help you do just that! A good place to start here is loading up on omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon or nuts, filling your plate with non-starchy veggies that are full of color and rich in antioxidants and nutrients, and choosing whole foods over processed foods when you can.
Focus on Immune-Boosting Foods
When you’re regularly eating veggies that represent all of the colors of the rainbow, you’ve already got a great head start on boosting your immune system! Below are some of the specific fruits and veggies that are high in immune-boosting vitamins:
- Vitamin C (a powerful antioxidant) can be found in: citrus fruits (lemons, limes, grapefruits, and oranges), leafy greens, bell peppers, and strawberries.
- Vitamin E can be found in: almonds, hazelnuts, spinach, and broccoli.
- Vitamin A (foods high in carotenoids) can be found in: carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin.
- Vitamin D can be found in: salmon, mackerel, and tuna.
- Zinc can be found in: oysters, crab, pumpkin seeds, and meats/poultry.
Work Out Regularly
The exact relationship between the immune system and exercise is not completely clear, but we do know that regular exercise boosts our immune function. Physical activity increases our heart rate and breathing, which can help rid our bodies of bacteria in the lungs and airways. During and after physical activity, our body temperature rises. This rise in temperature helps kill and or prevent bugs from growing and or spreading within our body. Being mindful of your exertion and how hard you are pushing yourself is imperative when using exercise to boost your immune system. Over-exercising or pushing yourself too hard can actually have an opposite effect and instead weaken your immune system, which then increases your risk of getting sick. Our bodies can be such good communicators; make sure you are slowing down enough to listen to your body and decipher what it may be telling you.
Wash Your Hands
Yep, the good old-fashioned, wash your hands. As easy as it may sound, washing your hands makes such a difference in preventing infection! Let’s think about it for a minute — we are constantly touching things- surfaces, objects, door knobs, faucets, etc. We are also constantly touching our face, bodies, nose, mouth, eyes– most of the time without even realizing it! Therefore, we are constantly spreading everything we touch to everything else that we touch! Germs can spread from us touching a door knob to then touching our phones to then eating something with our hands or touching our nose. Often, eating food can be the easiest way we are hit with the germs because we end up eating the germs as we are eating our food! Yuck! Through the simple act of hand washing, we remove these germs before continuing on to the next step. Washing our hands wipes the slate clean, kills the germs and can help prevent us from getting and/or spreading those germs.
Bonus: hand sanitizer vs. soap. The standard soap and water is the first choice, as it cleans and kills more of the bacteria more efficiently. However, if soap and water is not an option, hand sanitizer is the next best. Definitely better to use something to kill those germs over nothing!
Make Sure You have Optimal Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D and the immune system have a very close relationship. Studies have shown that people with a vitamin D levels <30 ng/ml were more likely to self report an upper respiratory system (13). Vitamin D helps decrease risk of infection and plays a huge role in the reaction and action of fighting off infections. The active form of vitamin D, Vitamin D3, helps decrease the inflammatory response, which we know is happening when you are getting sick and/or fighting the infection. Our Vitamin D levels typically drop in winter months (since we are not outside as often and the sun isn’t as strong), which also happens to be when cold and flu season typically occurs.
Ways to get more Vitamin D: sunlight and food. Sun exposure is how most of us get our Vitamin D. However, how much we get from the sun can vary as there are many factors that impact just how much vitamin D each of us can get from the sun.
These factors include:
- Color of skin – depending on the darkness of your skin, it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours for you to get enough sun exposure to get Vitamin D
- Proximity to the equator – the sun is strongest the closer to the equator
- Amount of skin being exposed to sunlight (the more you expose, the more opportunity for Vitamin D exposure you have)
- Time of day– the strength of the sun (think mid-day) is best
Foods we can consume to get vitamin D include: fatty fish (think salmon), liver, and egg yolks.
We hope that learning these 6 ways to boost your immune system will help you stay healthy through this season, but just in case, stay tuned for next week when we will be tackling natural remedies for the cold and flu.