Easy Ways to stay Healthy this Winter

It’s that time of year again – well nearly.  Sniffles and snuffles, chills and aches, sore throats spreading like wildfire through offices and schools, trains and buses, as we find ourselves huddled together more indoors than out with the cooling temperatures and wetter weather.

What can you do to protect yourself against these minor infections which can lead to major headaches as we enter the fall and winter seasons.

In this article you will find a brief explanation of your immune system and some things you can do to help make it strong and keep it that way as we go through the next few months.

Like many things concerning the body, it is important to remember that the immune system is exactly that – a system, made up of a complicated network of special cells, tissues, proteins and organs that work together to protect the body from potentially damaging foreign invaders and disease. Like many things in our bodies and indeed in life, to work at it’s best it requires balance and harmony.

There are two parts to the system-

The Innate part, the natural protection that you are born with – when your body detects a germ invader, it goes onto attack and tries to flush it out, by doing things like producing extra mucus, or turning up the temperature and you get a fever

The Adaptive part is the protection we gain as we go through life or from vaccines, building up immunity to infections by producing specific antibodies against specific bacteria or germs.  These antibodies remain in our system ready to attack again if the same infection strikes, which is why it is very rare to come down with the same thing twice.

Studies have shown that our lifestyle choices can contribute to ensuring that our immune systems have the right types of cells in the right quantities in order to maximize our immune response to infection.  Taking action now to support your immune system and keep it strong is key to having a healthier winter. 

Imagine a day where you get up early and meditate for 10 minutes, have a healthy breakfast of green juice followed by oatmeal and a big glass of water with which you take a probiotic.  You walk to the bus stop or walk with the kids to school instead of drive, perhaps you walk to work instead of taking the subway, either way you’re exercising outside enjoying what could be a sunny day.  You have a delicious salad (including mushrooms) for lunch with some pumpkin seeds sprinkled on the top and another glass of water. On the way home from work you relax listening to music instead of looking at facebook or reading the news and when you get home, after a healthy dinner, you relax in a hot bath, followed by an early night.  WOW sounds Awesome right?  Well doing that has just increased your chances of NOT catching a cold this winter!!  Do yourself a favor and try to incorporate as many of the following things into every day life and see if it makes a difference to the sneezes and snuffles in your house this cold season.

Here are my Top Ten Tips to Maximize your Immune Response

1.Eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables

Try to eat a rainbow of colors every day, thus ensuring that you’re getting the full range of vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Studies have shown that zinc and vitamin D can be useful in immune response, and good sources of that can be nuts and seeds for zinc, mushrooms (exposed to UV light) and sunshine for Vitamin D.  

2.Exercise

There are of course masses of benefits of regular exercise, but with specific regard to the immune system, exercise promotes efficient blood circulation which keeps cells moving so they can do their job.  One study from UC San Diego revealed that 20 minutes of exercise stimulated the immune system which in turn produced anti-inflammatory cellular response. If you exercise outside on a sunny day, then you get double benefit of the exercise and boosting your Vitamin D!

3.Maintain a healthy weight

The link between obesity and the immune system is not yet clearly understood, but studies have shown that individuals who are affected by obesity have an impaired immune response leading to increased risk for various infections.

4.Quit smoking

It can be hard to stop smoking however, the benefits to health are so massive that it is worth the hard work that it takes to quit. Here is a link to the American Lung Association and their advice for how to quit for good

5.Drink alcohol in moderation

Remember what I said about balance and harmony? Here is a good example.  Drinking to excess can lead to immune-related health problems, but in moderation it can be just fine.

6.Sleep

Good quality sleep is key to keeping that immune system working well.  Sleep deprivation can suppress immune system functionality and leave you more susceptible to viruses.  Aim for 7-9 hours a night, which can be a challenge I know, but perhaps top up at the weekend with a long lie or my personal favorite an afternoon nap!

7.Hand Washing

Balance and harmony comes into play here too. Washing your hands removes bacteria from them and can help to prevent that bacteria from entering your system leading to fewer instances of colds and flu. However, our systems need to be exposed to a few bacteria in order that our immune systems keep active, so for sure wash your hands but not excessively!

8.Stress Reduction

High levels of stress have the same impact on the immune system as sleep deprivation.  There have been increasing amounts of press coverage about the benefits of stress reduction on health, and this is particularly true for the immune system.  Practicing meditation, taking time out to relax, listening to music and even singing are all good ways to unwind and reduce stress helping you to stay healthy.

9.Take a probiotic

Gut health has also been in the news recently with many studies highlighting the links between a healthy gut and a healthy immune system.  Probiotics may also counteract the adverse effects of broad spectrum antibiotics by keeping the immune system ready to respond to new infections.

10.Stay hydrated!  

Water helps in the production of lymph, which carries white blood cells and other immune system cells. Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your health. For an extra boost, add a slice of lemon, which will provide extra vitamin C.