Boost your Immune System this Winter
This winter is proving to be a very cold one already! The harsh cold has kept us huddled up, spending more time indoors, which means less regular physical activity and being around others – germs and all.
The immune system is the body’s defence against infectious organisms and other invaders. It attacks organisms and substances that invade the body and cause disease. The immune system is made up of a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body. Your immune system creates, stores, and distributes the white blood cells that fight bacteria and viruses that enter your body, especially during cold and flu season. In most cases, the immune system does a great job of keeping us healthy and preventing infections. But sometimes bacteria or viruses can overwhelm the immune system, thus leading to illness and infection.
We all know what it feels like to have a cold coming on: pain in your sinuses, a tickle in your throat, sneezing and heaviness all over your body. Your immune system is under attack. No one likes getting sick, which is why you need to keep your immune system in infection-fighting shape.
The following are healthy lifestyle habits you can implement to help reduce sick days while leaving your immune system strong. What you eat, your attitude and the amount of exercise you get can all play a role in strengthening your immune system and preventing illness.
1. Give your Immune System a Workout
Exercising regularly is a significant factor that impacts the health of your immune system. It’s been proven that people who lead more sedentary lifestyles are more likely to get colds or other infectious diseases. Moderate exercise can help support your immune system, but a quick jog anytime you feel a scratchy throat won’t do the trick. You need to be consistent with physical activity efforts as immunity improves gradually over time. Staying active keeps you healthy, but conversely, overdoing it with heavy-duty exercise can actually weaken the immune system leaving you more vulnerable to colds and flu.
2. Eat a Nutrient-Packed Diet
If you’re feeling under the weather, food might be the last thing on your mind. However, even if you’ve lost your appetite, it’s important to keep consuming a nutrient-dense, well-rounded diet. Meeting your body’s nutritional dietary needs during cold winter months keeps the immune system strong and can help with recovery time if you do become sick. Regardless of whether you have a sniffle or are trying to ward off any winter illness, you should make sure you’re consuming enough nutrients to give your body the energy it needs to fuel its immune defences. Stick to a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins to help defend your body against germs.
Your gastrointestinal tract is a breeding ground for bacteria, both good and bad. Good bacteria help your immune system in the battle against microorganisms that might cause disease. These bacteria also support healthy digestion of the vitamins and minerals you need for general health. Probiotics are the good bacteria you need, and eating foods or supplementing with probiotics may help to support your immune system’s efforts. Consider taking a daily probiotic supplement or include probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, miso, some cheeses, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha in your diet.
4. Vitamin D
We live in a country with little, if any, opportunity to synthesize Vitamin D in the winter. The shorter winter days mean decreased sunlight, and as such, it is recommended to supplement with daily Vitamin D. Vitamin D supplementation is important at all ages and Health Canada’s Dietary Recommended Intake is a good tool to gauge how much Vitamin D we all need. Sufficient levels of Vitamin D reduce your risk of infectious disease by strengthening your immune system. Vitamin D aids in triggering a strong anti-microbial response, allowing you to quickly fight off invaders before they can develop into a full-blown infection.
5. Oil of Oregano
Oregano grows wild in several Mediterranean countries and is typically dried and used to flavour food. But most people don’t know that the oil of oregano is considered to be an antibacterial, antiparasitic, antiseptic, antiviral and immune-boosting agent. Oil of oregano contains a compound called carvacrol, which has been shown to help break through the outer cell membranes that help protect bacteria from the immune system. Studies have shown that oil of oregano is effective at killing bacteria, and could also help the immune system take action against viruses, fungi and parasites. Due to potency, it is important to check with a qualified specialist or practitioner before using this or any other herb, especially during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
6. Get Enough Sleep
Your immune system needs quiet time to do its work, which is why immunity and sleep are intricately linked. Some experts believe that sleep evolved mainly as a way for the body to defend against illness and infection. When you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system becomes more vulnerable to illnesses like a cold or flu. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by your endless to-do list, it can be tempting to skip sleep to get everything done. However, keep in mind that sleep deprivation suppresses immune system function and the consequences could mean more sick days.
7. Stay Hydrated
Drinking a lot of water is good for your body, and it’s also good for your immune system. Water helps all of your body’s systems function at optimum levels. Staying adequately hydrated can help your body eliminate toxins and waste materials, enabling your immune system to better fight infection. Dehydration can affect your energy levels, as well as your ability to sleep, which can make you less likely to exercise, another trigger for a weakened immune system.
8. Healthy Hygiene Habits
Your body has many defence mechanisms to ward off bacteria and viruses. The hairs lining the inside of your nose act as a first line of defence against potential invaders you might inhale. You can help your nose do its job by using a saline nasal rinse to flush out trapped bacteria.
The winter months are very dry. Air humidifiers can be used at home to put moisture back into the air, which has many health benefits. Even if you don’t have a cold, winter air can dry out your sinuses, lowering your resistance to bacteria and viruses. Sleep with a humidifier in your room and wake feeling more comfortable in your nose and throat. Studies show that increasing humidity levels inside your home to levels between 40-45% can significantly reduce the ability of airborne viruses to cause flu infections. Viruses and bacteria don’t travel well in moist air.
Let’s be mindful of other people’s immune systems as well. A sneeze can travel through the air at speeds of up to 100 km/hour. A cough may be a bit slower, but either way, be sure to cover your mouth and wear a mask when in close contact with others when you have flu symptoms. Your skin is one of your body’s biggest immune defences of all, acting as a physical barrier against germs. When germs get on your skin they can end up in your eyes, nose, and mouth and can make you sick. That’s where good hand-washing hygiene comes in. Also refrain from excessively touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
As polar vortexes, weather bombs and nor’easters strike across the country this winter, it means we are more likely to stay indoors to avoid frigid temperatures. Stay cold and flu-free this year by incorporating our suggested health hacks for a healthy immune system. Keep your time away from work reserved for fun-filled, and well-deserved vacations!