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#1 Eat The Rainbow
Colours = antioxidants, & antioxidants = immune support (& great Instagram shots)! So fill up your market trolley with all the darkest & brightest colours – think beetroot, turmeric, pomegranate, berries, dark green leafies, bright sunny citrus, purple carrots, sweet potato & cabbage, red capsicum, red wine – ok that’s on the way home from markets but still full of essential antioxidants (Pinot Noir has the most polyphenols apparently, so grab a bottle, & some quality cacao for hot chocolates or raw desserts – cacao is king of the polyphenols)! Quality red wine & choccies are just good for you, there are studies that say so (thankyou scientists)…but do eat some veggies too.
Sleep is the cure for so many health problems, & poor immunity is definitely one of them (ask any nurse, first time mum or shift worker!) You are 3x more likely to succumb to infection after exposure if you’re sleep deprived by a couple of hrs per night over 2 weeks, than if you’ve been getting plenty. Sleep is the time when your body can rest, regenerate & repair itself, including your immune system. Chronic sleep deprivation puts you into an inflammatory state, & compromises your immune function (making you more susceptible to acute & chronic disease, & immune dysfunction i.e. autoimmunity, allergies etc). Don’t do it to yourself.
Everyone forgets to drink when it gets cooler – that means all of your mucous membranes will be struggling to do their jobs. And one of their jobs is to protect us from invaders!! So remember to drink this winter – it will make your body’s job so much easier! And your skin will survive the winter too.
I recommend to everyone who hasn’t yet – get your D levels checked asap – & before the flu season is perfect timing! Next time your Dr suggests getting blood taken, ask them to add this to the pathology tests, many of us Aussies are surprisingly deficient & your D levels impact not only your immunity, but inflammation, IBS, mental health, body composition, skin…so many things. It’s so easy to correct the deficiency – but you have to know it exists first!
Take time to get sunshine on your skin every day – 10mins allover for most caucasians, or more if your skin is darker. The darker you are naturally, the more likely you are to be D deficient. If you can’t get adequate sun exposure – you’ll need to supplement. Ask in your local health food store, or don’t whinge when you get sick!
Another really easy one to test, & so many are deficient. Zinc is vital for strong immunity & is also needed for many of the enzyme reactions in your body (i.e. without adequate zinc, there are many things that just can’t happen!) You can walk into any good pharmacy or health store with a naturopath on staff, & ask them to check your zinc levels (it might cost you a few $ but not knowing you’re deficient will be much more costly!)
Super common deficiency overall, but you need to be especially aware if you’re vegan or vego. You will be much more vulnerable to every bug going around if your levels are low, so if the test suggests you’re low – grab some liquid or tabs, & be sure to take them as directed with food (zinc on an empty stomach can cause many people to feel a bit nauseous).
#6 Probiotics / prebiotics
Many trials have proven that probiotic capsules taken daily can decrease the number of ‘sick’ days in school children, athletes, stressed uni students etc – so it’s a pretty safe gamble to grab a few bottles to see your family through the winter. They can help you recover more quickly from colds, flus & gastro bugs, as well as help with many gut symptoms like bloating, IBS & constipation. Look for a multi-strain variety – don’t just grab a cheap one from the supermarket, get some advice from your local health store.
And remember – eating a diverse range of fibre each day will enable you to feed & support your own home-grown diverse ‘probiotics’. Your gut bugs have to survive on your leftovers (fibre) so keep up the supply! You can also eat / drink bacterial reinforcements like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yoghurt & kombucha.
Multiple studies have found that exercising regularly decreases your cold & flu risk. Moving your body & getting the blood & lymph pumping causes the movement of important immune cells through your system for approx three hours after your workout. So the more you exercise, the more effectively your immune cells can get to where they need to be to protect you. Exercising also stimulates production of macrophages (immune cells that attack cold & flu bugs).
Don’t overdo it though – intense exercise sessions (i.e. moderate to high intensity for 90mins or more) can leave you more vulnerable to infection for up to 3 days. The best immune boosting strategy is daily moderate exercise.
#8 Stress Management
Short-term stress is useful to help us escape from dangers, or feel energetic, alert & able to get things done…but long-term stress causes us to feel mentally edgy, physically tense & eventually exhausted as well as increasing our risk of pretty much every disease. Chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes & heart disease, as well as colds & flus will all be worse / more frequent for the highly stressed individual.
Stress can be acute – like a near car crash, a big deadline or an upcoming exam – or more long-term, as in ongoing relationship stress or grief / homesickness etc. It’s the constant release of cortisol & other chemicals that causes immune suppression & chronic inflammation.
I cannot ‘stress’ this enough – you must manage your stress if you want to stay healthy! Try deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, massage, whatever exercise you prefer, getting out into nature, catching up with friends, funny movies…whatever relaxes you & makes you forget about your worries. Of course – you may just need to practice saying the word ‘NO’ & take on less.
#9 Beware of Children
If you have small children or work in a place that does – you’ll know that the cute little cherubs are walking cold & flu distributors! They can’t help it, it’s just they’ve got to get used to all theses germs so they can grow up into a nice clean adult like you (you were once a snot factory too) with an experienced & competent immune system.
If your defences are compromised at the moment or you’re just terrified of catching something right now – it would pay to avoid small children, travelling via public transport & large crowds – & of course wash your hands before putting them into your mouth / eyes, or on your phone / door handle / mug / keyboard…just be extra mindful that you could end up sick for a fortnight if you decide to sit next to the snot family on the train….but then, if you’re already doing all of the above, chances are you’ll just sneeze for a day & that will be it! Bring on the snot family!!
Love to hear your best winter tips too!