Sick of being sick? 5 easy ways to super-charge your immune system
Yes, we know spring is around the corner.
But somehow these last few weeks of winter, I find, is always the time when we all succumb to colds and sniffles in my family.
And now, having coughed and sneezed my way through most of the past couple of weeks, including battled a very painful sinus infection, I am very keen to give my immune system a proper boost.
According to researchers at Harvard, most importantly, the immune system requires balance and harmony – after all, it is a complex and diverse system within our body. And the thing is, while few direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function have been proven, experts are in agreement that general healthy-living strategies are a good way to start giving your immune system the upper hand.
Right so, healthy living it is. And I am starting with all of these:
1. Eat healthy food
First of all, if you suspect your diet is not providing you with all your micronutrient needs, taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement is always a good idea. However, most experts agree that for your overall health and wellbeing, eating a healthy, balanced diet is better for you that just continuing eating poorly and popping a supplement.
In fact, feeding your body certain foods may help keep your immune system strong, and so if you're looking for ways to prevent winter colds and the flu, your first step should be a visit to your local grocery store or farmer's market.
Here are 10 foods in particular that have been proven to have a positive effect on your immune system: Citrus fruits, red peppers, broccoli, garlic, ginger, spinach, yogurt, almonds, green tea and kiwi.
2. Sleep enough
Not only is getting sufficient sleep important for your overall feeling of wellness and alertness the following day, it is also vital for your immune system, as it turns out.
In fact, studies show that people who don't get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as a common cold virus. According to the Mayo Clinic lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.
When you sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you're under stress. Not getting enough shuteye may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don't get enough sleep.
Aim for at least seven hours of sleep a night, ideally eight – and you'll soon notice a difference in your overall energy and wellbeing too.
3. Get outside in daylight
In order to get your body into a healthy cycle of feeling awake in the morning and tired come nighttime (hello melatonin!), you need to get exposed to sufficient daylight during daylight hours.
As well as boosting our energy levels, the vitamin D we get from sun exposure plays an important part in keeping our immune system healthy too. The problem? Most of us don't get enough sunshine and daylight as part of our daily life. And the thing is, proper stores of Vitamin D have been directly linked to lower rates of the flu and other illnesses.
Aim to spend at least 20-30 minutes outdoors every day when it is bright, and during the winter months, in our part of the world, you might look into also popping a vitamin D supplement.
4. Cut down on your alcohol consumption
If you've been aperol spritz-ing your way through summer, and am currently looking forward to cozy nights in with a glass of wine in hand, be aware that you could be doing your immune system a major disservice.
In fact, according to research, getting “tipsy” or “drunk” can drastically lower your immune system for up to 24 hours after you were drinking.
Other studies have shown that people who are regular drinkers have higher rates of respiratory illness.
So try swapping your glass of wine for a warming chai tea. Or how about that pumpkin spice latte?
5. Eliminate – or at least minimize – stress
We are all living lives that for the most part are far too stressful – and as well as having a really bad effect on our mental health, stress has also been proven to impact our immune system in a negative way too.
The reason? There is a closely linked relationship between our mind and body. Meaning, emotional stress. can present itself in a wide variety of maladies, including stomach upset, hives, and even heart disease. What is important to remember is that we all deal with stress differently, and a situation that one person finds extremely stressful might not seem so bad at all to another. This means, of course, that we need to be better at identifying the stressors in our own life – and deal with them accordingly.
Everyone will experience short bursts of stress. An exam, for instance, or a work project that is proving tricky. However, scientists agree that it is the chronic, long-term stress that is really bad for our health, and that we need to try and so something about.
Chronic stress increases a hormone called cortisol – sustained elevation of this hormone suppresses the immune system after time.
So we all need to get better at letting this go. Meditate, do yoga, tackle and issue and put it to rest – whatever you can do to lower the constant stressors in your life, do it – your body will thank you for it.