Cold and flu season is here, and if you’re like most people, you’ll do everything in your power to avoid getting sick. While you already know to avoid coming contact with sick people if possible and to wash your hands frequently, you can also do your body a favor by strengthening its own natural ability to fight off disease. In addition to considering the flu shot – which is recommended by the CDC for everyone over the age of six months – here are some simple tips you can try to give your immune system a boost.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep can have a tremendous impact on the immune system. Populations which tend to get the least amount of sleep often face the greatest risk for catching the flu. Encourage restful slumber by keeping your bedroom a bit cooler than the rest of the house, avoiding electronics for at least an hour before bed, and getting up and going to sleep at the same time every day.
Cut Back on Alcohol
The cold weather brings the holiday season, which presents plenty of opportunities to indulge in alcoholic beverages. Yet, it’s a good idea to limit consumption, as excessive consumption is linked to adverse immune-related health effects, including susceptibility to pneumonia. If you do choose to imbibe, limit alcohol to the medically-backed recommendation of one drink per day for women, or two for men.
It’s easier said than done – especially during the holiday season – but minimizing stress can help your immune system ward off disease. Chronic stress depletes the immune system and impedes its ability to fight off pathogens, including bacteria and viruses. Finding a healthy outlet for stress, such as meditation, yoga, or another form of exercise, is important to supporting optimal wellness.
For a while, researchers suspected that “catching a cold” was simply a myth, and that exposure to cooler temperatures didn’t really influence a person’s likelihood of falling ill. Yet, emerging evidence suggests that, when exposed to cold temperatures, the body is less capable of fighting off illnesses like the rhinovirus, a cause of the common cold. Dressing in layers is never a bad idea – not only could it help you stay protected against colds, but it will also aid in maintaining a normal body temperature in the event you stay out longer than anticipated.
Optimize Your Diet
A healthy immune system requires a number of key nutrients to function its best. Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, increases the production of white blood cells to fight off infections. Garlic, too, has immune-boosting properties, which is likely due to its rich content of compounds containing sulfur. Green tea, ginger, turmeric, spinach, and almonds are also hailed for their power to strengthen immunity. In general, avoiding heavily processed foods and prioritizing whole, natural foods are great ways to reduce inflammation and support overall health. Because immune system health and the gastrointestinal tract are suspected to be closely linked, you may also want to consider taking probiotics or colostrum, which could lead to better gut health.