Why is it harder to stay well during the winter months? There is a reason they call this the “cold and flu season”.
When the weather turns cold, we spend less time outdoors and more time indoors – in close quarters where the cold viruses of people get recycled through the air. Flu viruses are more stable in cold air, and the low humidity of the winter months helps those virus particles remain in the air.
With these factors at play, it’s even more important than other times of year to focus on keeping your immune system working to fight off illness.
How can you do this? For starters, let’s all get on the same page regarding how our immune systems work.
How it all works
Your immune system is a complex system of cells and tissues that protect the body from harmful foreign substances. These cells and tissues include the tonsils, thymus gland, spleen, lymph nodes and corresponding vessels and white blood cells. Your immune system is working overtime each day fighting against environmental toxins, abnormal or cancerous cells within your body and viral and bacterial germs that you may have come in contact with.
You are exposed to germs on a daily basis. That’s a fact of life that won’t change unless you decide to live in a bubble or never leave your home (or let anyone else in!).
The difference between getting sick and not getting sick is whether your immune system is strong enough to fight these germs before they proliferate enough for you to come down with the cold, flu or bacterial infection. The key to not getting sick resides within both long-term and short-term strategies for building up your immune system.
Long-Term Immune Boosting
Keep in mind…the immune system is a complex system. Being such, it doesn’t get stronger with a few weeks of immune-boosting activities. However, a longer-term, healthy lifestyle can do wonders in cultivating a strong immune system. It’s not as hard as you think, but with our hectic lifestyles, we often fall down on the fundamentals. By being intentional with a few things over time, you will see a difference. Start with a focus on:
Healthy Diet – The optimal way to keep your body healthy is to eat a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet that is full of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, as well as lean protein. Limiting processed foods, pro-inflammatory grains and refined carbohydrates is also helpful.
Water – Drinking enough is essential for your cells to function properly. Staying hydrated is a boost to your immune system in that water helps produce lymph. Lymph carries your white blood cells throughout the body to fight infection. So by drinking enough water, you’re creating the right transportation system for your body’s best infection-fighting tool (your white blood cells).
Exercise – Physical exercise has the potential to help remove bacteria from lung tissue and airways. Exercise also helps circulation within your immune system and can even cause favorable changes to your antibodies. The brief rise in body temperature from exercise can also kill germs. Finally, it also helps reduce immunity-lowering stress hormones.
Stress – The more your body perceives stress, the higher the levels of cortisol within. Cortisol lowers your body’s immune function, or ability to fight illness. Therefore, finding ways to bring balance and harmony into your life can do wonders for your immune function.
Rest – When you sleep, helper T cells, beneficial to your immune response, peak in production. Studies show that sleep deprivation lowers T cells and raises pro-inflammatory markers in the body. Sleep is also the time when your body has a better ability to produce fever, which helps to fight infection. So as simple as it sounds, sleep is one of your best tools for building up your immune system.
Vitamin D – Besides the many other benefits of Vitamin D, maintaining optimal Vitamin D levels helps to fight against viral infections such as cold in flu. Optimal Vitamin D levels are between 50 and 70 ng/ml. If your diet isn’t providing enough of this essential vitamin, consider adding a daily supplement.
Vitamins A, C, E and selenium – These are very powerful antioxidants and immune stimulators.
Probiotics – Having healthy gut flora helps to strengthen the immune system and fight against infections. To improve your gut flora, take probiotics and eat fermented foods such as kefir or one of these recommendations.
Short-Term Immune Boosting
- Keep your air humidified. Keeping your air passages moist will help your airways to heal faster. Even better, inhale some steam with a drop or two of pure Eucalyptus Oil.
- Drink a lot of fluids in order to keep you hydrated and to thin your mucus. Try adding two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar to your water. Apple cider vinegar helps to thin your mucus.
- Sleep, sleep, sleep. Remember, your immune system is more active during sleep.
- Use a saline wash or neti pot to help rinse the congestion, dust, pollen and mold from your nasal passages.
- Take 1000 mg of Vitamin C daily.
- Take zinc lozenges throughout the day. Studies show that taking zinc during a cold can speed up the recovery time by three times!
By employing long-term tactics year-round and using short-term tactics when you do get sick, you can minimize the frequency, extent and duration of your illnesses. If this advice makes sense, please make sure to share this with your friends and family – so everyone in your life can benefit and STAY WELL this season!