We can do more than hope. Many of us are built with an extremely effective and efficient system for staying healthy: the immune system. Our innate immune system consists of barriers like skin, mucous membranes, and body temperature that physically block invading antigens (bacteria, viruses). Let’s say we don’t wash our hands well enough or forget our hat so our body temperature drops and the antigens get in. Certain cells called (I love this name) Natural Killer Cells will destroy the invaders. If those fail, the body reverts to the acquired immune system.
If all this fails, the invaders win and we get that nasty winter cold. So the goal is to act as cheerleader to our immune system, and let our amazing bodies do the rest.
Here’s how to boost your immune system this winter.
Nutrition It turns out that all the stuff we tell you to eat for a healthy diet rev up your immune system as well. No need to buy expensive supplements: you can eat actual food and get it done.
- Sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes: contain vitamin A, which enhances lymphocyte function and fights against carcinogens.
- Oranges, lemons, blackcurrants, fruit juice, bell peppers, broccoli: contain vitamin C, which resists infections, heals wounds, and serves as an antioxidant.
- Canola oil, wheat germ, seeds & nuts: contain vitamin E, which helps protect against respiratory infections
- Lean ground beef, eggs, shellfish, oysters, plain yogurt: contain zinc, which helps protect against pneumonia and helps wound healing
- Potatoes, whole grain cereal, beans & lentils: contain B vitamins, the overall workhorses of the vitamin world.
- Steak, clams, pinto beans, raisins: contain iron, the basis for hemoglobin, or the main component of red blood cells. Many people are slightly anemic, which causes fatigue, without knowing it.
- Salmon, fortified milk and juice, sardines, eggs, mushrooms: contain vitamin D, which can affect almost every tissue in the body
NOTE: The best source of vitamin D is sunshine: get outside and play!!
Exercise Studies show that moderate exercise increases the flow of those fighter cells through the body during exercise. After exercise, levels return to normal, but there is a cumulative effect and immunity is boosted for longer periods of time. The key is consistent, brisk activity. Bundle up and take a 30-minute walk, go ice-skating, take the kids sledding.
Sleep Aim for about 8 hours a night. This gives your superhero fighter cells time to rejuvenate and repair. It can be challenging to achieve that much sleep given a busy schedule, so start with going to bed just 15 minutes earlier and see how you feel.
Stress Many scientists believe that the hormones secreted during stressful situations can impair or alter immune function. Stress hormones kick us into the sympathetic nervous system know as “fight or flight”. This is an excellent state to be in while slaying the saber-tooth tiger, but the problem lies when so many of us exist in the fight or flight mode 18 hours a day. Be kind to yourself and invoke the parasympathetic nervous system, known as “rest and digest”. Especially before bed: read a story, listen to soothing music, do restorative (relaxation) yoga, or spill all your worries on the pages of a journal.