With cold and flu season upon us, I thought it would be helpful to share some tips and strategies to help boost your immune system. Getting sick sucks, and the pandemic has only amplified how inconvenient it is to feel unwell. If you have kids, you probably know all too well how draining it is (mentally, emotionally, and financially) to have them stay home from daycare or school for nothing more than a runny nose – day after day, week after week. As adults, taking sick time can be tough for our careers and financial health. Home life can become more stressful as housework and life’s responsibilities pile up but you’re too tired to deal with any of it. Not to mention the headaches, chills, nausea, aches, pains…you get the picture.
It seems this year is especially bad. I’ll blame the pandemic for two reasons. One – being so isolated has ironically increased our risk of illness, since our immune system hasn’t been exposed to much to have an opportunity to fight it and become stronger as a result. And two – it’s led to worsened eating habits, a more sedentary lifestyle, higher stress and mental health issues, less structure in our lives, and compromised sleep habits. All things that weaken our immunity.
So what can we do about it?
Get 7-10 servings of fruits and veggies each day.
These foods are loaded with essential nutrients like vitamins, mineral, fiber, and antioxidants to keep us healthy. Leafy greens, citrus fruit, garlic, ginger root are an especially good boost to the immune system. My favorite ways to consume them include smoothies, soups, salads, stir fry, and simple snacks like a piece of fruit or veggies and hummus.
Get enough fluids.
I’ll state the obvious by saying 2-3L of water daily is crucial for our overall health. But in addition to that, consider adding green tea to your day. Green tea has many health benefits including regulating hormones, reducing health risks, and helping your body fight off sickness with all the antioxidants it’s loaded with.
This can take place in many forms – walking, active tasks like chores or yard work, and certainly structured workouts like cardio and strength training sessions. While I am a weight lifting junkie, I’ll favor aerobic exercise when it comes to helping ward off sickness. Studies indicate that increasing your heart rate regularly helps to flush out pathogens while reducing inflammation, which allows your immune system to function at a higher level. So tie up those running shoes, book a spin class, or hit the elliptical to get your sweat on.
Get enough sleep.
7-8 hours a night should do the trick, otherwise you might be putting your body at risk of getting run down. Not enough rest and recovery weakens our immune system, making us less resistant to fighting off sickness. Like most things, structure is important. Try to stick with a consistent routine every night to include the same bedtime, a relaxing and comfortable sleep environment, and no screen time at least 30-60 minutes before sleep.
Healthy coping strategies when dealing with stress are necessary for our wellbeing. Stress is inevitable, but if we don’t take necessary measures to handle it effectively, it can not only compromise our immunity, but our mental health as well. In addition to the tips above, other ways to decrease stress can include relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation, disconnecting from social media, connecting with good friends and family, attending a yoga class, journaling, and learning to say no.
Minimize foods and drinks that contain high amounts of added sugar, saturated fat, sodium, and synthetic ingredients.
Some examples include a can of Pepsi (41 grams of sugar), a fancy Starbucks Frappuccino (63 grams of sugar and 10 grams of saturated fat), a single slice of Meat Lovers pizza from Pizza Hotline (over 1,700mg of sodium), or Doritos chips (over 30 ingredients including MSG). Unfortunately, the list goes on for miles when it comes to processed foods that can harm our immune health. But while these things are hard to avoid, if you eat more whole foods, pay attention to food labels, don’t drink your calories, and limit how much you eat out, you should notice a drastic improvement. Remember, when you eat good, you generally feel good. If you eat bad, you generally feel bad.
Bottom line: while sometimes catching a cold or flu is unavoidable, your daily choices can certainly play a large role to improve the outcome. Apply these tips to strengthen your immune system so you can minimize the odds of getting sick. A strong immune system is how to get sick less often.