Whether it’s the cold weather, spending more time indoors, central heating or a lack of sunlight, there is no denying the fact that winter is usually accompanied by colds, the flu and other viruses, bugs and germs. Chances are high that, even if you eat healthily and exercise regularly, you too will fall foul of one of these nasty conditions.
Flu shots and antibiotics can help but, really, you can avoid many of these all-too-common maladies by supercharging your immune system so you are less susceptible to illness in the first place.
Here are SEVEN ways to boost your immune system!
1. Eat a broad spectrum of nutrients
Vitamins and minerals are essential for every aspect of your health – especially your immune system. While vitamin C and the mineral zinc are the “big hitters”, virtually every vitamin and mineral plays a part in immune system function. Make sure you are getting a broad spectrum of essential nutrients by eating a diet that is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats and not forgetting protein. To do this, try and include several different color foods in each meal and then consume a variety of colors throughout the day. See how colorful you can make your meals!
It goes without saying we’re talking naturally-occurring colors here and not artificial ones…
2. Get enough sleep
Sleep is when your body repairs and recovers after the stresses of the day and that includes fighting off infection. Being sleep-deprived reduces the efficiency of your immune system so make sure you are getting plenty of quality zzzz each and every night. Ideally, you should aim for at least six hours and preferably closer to eight. This is not always easy if you have a busy home life and career but an extra hour or two of sleep per night could mean you save several weeks of wasted time being ill.
3. Take a probiotic
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that work in conjunction with your immune system to keep you healthy. Living in your digestive system, levels of this healthy bacteria can be reduced by stress, an unbalanced diet or after a course of antibiotics. Repopulate your internal fauna and flora by taking a probiotic supplement or eating fermented food products such as kefir, sauerkraut, natural yogurt, or blue cheese.
4. Get up and move!
Exercise and any vigorous physical activity such as clearing snow or raking leaves has an immune system-boosting effect. Pumping oxygenated blood around your body, removing accumulated toxins and increasing production of feel good endorphins can help you fight off germs and bugs. Be aware though, too much very intense exercise can actually have the opposite effect and may suppress your immune system so make sure you don’t overdo it. And while it may be cold outside, it’s best to exercise in the great outdoors where you are less likely to inadvertently inhale any circulating germs. Gyms are notoriously germ-ridden places!
5. Expose yourself…
While it may be cold outside, the sun’s rays are still abundant and can even make it through the heaviest of cloud cover. While it may be tempting to wrap up and stay inside, this can depress your mood and also your immune system while reducing your vitamin D levels.
Try to get outside during daylight for 15 to 30 minutes and expose yourself to the sun’s immune-boosting power. This may mean you have to make the effort to take a walk during your lunchbreak but not only will you score some much-needed vitamin D if you do so, you’ll also avoid that germ-infected break room and significantly lower your risk of cross infection.
If you live somewhere that the sun never shines in the winter (London, Edinburgh, the Artic…!) consider a good quality vitamin D supplement and shoot for 1200 IU per day during the winter months.
6. Up your garlic intake
As well as offering superior protection from vampires (!), garlic is a known immune booster although some humorists suggest that it is the reek of secondhand garlic that keeps germs away! Either way, garlic is an easy thing to include in your diet – simply add some to your cooking. Use raw, freshly-pressed garlic rather than granules or powder and if you can’t stomach garlic, consider adding garlic oil capsules to your supplement regimen. They are also available “odor free” so you don’t even have to suffer garlic burps!
7. Don’t be a germ-o-phobe
It may be that our increased susceptibility to germs is partly caused by the overuse of kitchen and bathroom antibacterial agents, bleaches and other germ-killing cleaners. It is hypothesized that limiting our exposure to germs and bacteria means that our bodies never have to learn to defend themselves from these nasty invaders. In a nutshell, our immune systems are untrained and weak – like an inactive person’s muscles.
However, by exposing our immune system to more germs and bacteria (e.g. by only washing vegetables in water and not anti-bacterials, wiping surfaces with water and soap and not bleach) our immune systems get a work out and, as a result, become more efficient and stronger.
Needless to say, this immune system training should happen in the summer and not at the peak of flu season but if you want to make sure your bacteria-fighting ability is at its highest, it might be time to toss out those anti-bacterial wipes.
While it is almost impossible to avoid all germs and bacteria, you would do well to steer clear of anyone who is showing symptoms of infection. Confined spaces are similarly a no-go area if you want to avoid getting sick. Air-conditioning, elevators, even shared telephones are all places where germs and bacteria lurk so embrace wide open spaces this winter and implement our seven immune-boosting tips to avoid suffering otherwise avoidable illnesses.