As we approach the colder months of the year, colds, the flu and general winter bugs can become more common. What’s worse, with the added stress of the festive season approaching, stress levels can increase and bad habits can follow.
Your lifestyle and dietary choices can directly affect how strong your immune system is, and so by replacing those bad health habits with good ones can help keep your immune system strong and healthy.
Here I’m going to lay out my 5 lifestyle choices on how to help support and boost your immune system:
So, why might you have a weakened immune system?
There are many contributors to a weakened immune system, including:
• Eating a bad diet consisting of limited fruits and vegetables, and high in refined sugars, processed and refined foods
• Eating lots of fatty foods, especially processed fats
• Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and/or caffeine
• Being stressed, unhappy or unable to relax
• Not getting enough sleep / good quality sleep
So what should I do to boost my immune system?
One of the first things to tackle at this time of year is stress.
It is very important that you can relax, or re-learn to relax in such a busy world as this.
It is a well-known fact that stress can weaken your immune system and may make you much more susceptible to catching any cold, flu or virus going around.
With the build up to Christmas, a lot of people find the holiday season very hectic and the organisation to be done, the gifts, the housework, the family, all really increase their stress levels, which ultimately reduces their immune system and makes them more of a target to colds and flu.
Not the Christmas present that you want!
There are a number of ways to help you relax and reduce your stress levels, including yoga, Pilates, dancing, massage, aromatherapy, meditation, practicing mindfulness, and reflexology; or even simply making the time to relax with your favourite cup of herbal tea, reading your favourite book, painting, drawing or seeing friends.
All of these techniques can replenish your nervous system, no matter what type of stress treatment you chose.
We all know exercise is good for you, come winter come summer. Just because it’s colder doesn’t mean we have to stop moving. In fact, now is the time to get those limbs moving even more!
Get out in the fresh air and breathe deeply. This not only helps the lymphatic system move protective immune cells around the body, it also helps you to relax and de-stress.
Walking, swimming or cycling for half an hour daily can be very helpful both physically and mentally, helping to release endorphins and keeps the immune system working efficiently.
Find a time that suits you, whether it’s a morning jog, an afternoon swim, an evening walk. Perhaps a yoga class, Pilates, or lunchtime walk in the fresh air.
Grab a friend and take up a joint sport, like tennis or become jogging buddies.
Just find a way to keep moving and increasing that heart rate regularly!
Please do be aware that excessive exercise such as extreme training sessions e.g for competitive sports can actually reduce immunity as it puts stress on the body, so ensure you’re training and recovering well and following the tips outlined in this month’s Winter Wellness blogs.
During sleep our body repairs itself and takes a good well-deserved rest.
You can eat amazingly well, [drink green juices] until you turn green and take a yoga class every day, but if you don’t get a good quality night’s sleep you’re going to catch whatever’s going around.
A good sleep, around 8 hours a night will help support the immune system and help keep you fresh and energised throughout the day.
With limited sleeping hours, you can end up tired and snacking on sugary or caffeinated foods and beverages to wake up which not only play havoc with your immune system, but also affect the quality of your next sleep, and so the cycle repeats!
If you’re having trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night, have a look at your diet and your habits before bed.
If you consume any caffeine after midday, or are watching TV, using laptops or phones just before bed, this can muddle up your sleep/wake hormones and make you feel sleepy in the day and wide awake at night causing a disruption in your ability to fall asleep.
If you think logically, when the sun comes up our bodies wake up, when the sun goes down, the different hormones in our bodies react and start to prepare the body for sleep.
If you have constant light going into your eyes, or are mentally stimulated by something on your T.V or laptop this can affect your hormones that are involved in the sleep/wake cycle, and affect your ability to fall asleep.
It may even cause blood sugar level dips during the night which results in late night eating. This is not only bad for your sleep as your body is trying to focus on digestion instead of rest and repair, it can also cause weight gain and digestive disturbances.
Try turning off phones and laptops at least an hour before bed, dim the lights and take this time to unwind. Have a bath, read a book, meditate, or find whatever brings your energies to a relaxed state.
Try a drop of lavender on your pillow, a cup of chamomile tea an hour or two before bed and enjoy your sleep.
4. Eat a healthy diet
A diet rich in fruit and vegetables can help your immune system leaps and bounds, so try including foods rich in vitamins A, C and E, plus beta-carotene and zinc. These come from foods such as citrus fruit, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, dark blue and red berries, mangoes, apricots, kiwis, apples, kale, red onions, beetroot and many many more. These all support the immune system thanks to their abundance of nutrients in the form of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, phytochemicals, fibre etc.
Eating or drinking too much processed and refined foods or sugar laden foods can curb immune system cells that attack bacteria. This effect can last for a few hours after consumption of these foods and leave you more susceptible to whatever is going around – scary hey?
And for those of you living in the Dublin area, our newest Nourish store that recently opened in Sandymount has a fantastic selection of fresh organic fruits and veggies to choose from, so pop on in and grab yourself a bunch of fresh delicious fruit and veg and get munching!
5. Stay Hydrated
You’ve heard me say it time and time again, and I’m going to say it again, keep yourself hydrated!
A fully hydrated body feels alert, energised, and healthy. An adult requires about 1.5ltres of water on average, although if you’re more active the amount will go up of course.
Keeping hydrated means we flush out toxins and waste products, keep our cells hydrated and our immune system strong. During the winter our bodies tend to become a bit drier as a result of weather, our diets and even heating or air conditioning in our homes and at work, so it’s good to keep topped up with plenty of fluids.
It’s good to note that caffeine and alcohol are hugely dehydrating, and are also not great for our immune system. They actually deplete our immune system and can cause stress on our adrenal glands which ultimately affects our stress levels, along with affecting our sleep, our blood sugar levels and our energy levels.
A glass of wine every now and again, or a cup of coffee here and there is not going to be the end of your immune system, but it’s best to avoid them when you can so as to keep your immune system as strong as possible during the cold and flu seasons.
We stock a wide range of immunity boosting supplements to additional help keep colds and bugs at bay. See the whole immunity support supplement range here.
For more information and advice on keeping your immune system strong and healthy this winter, keep an eye out for our sister posts coming up here:
Top Foods for Staying Healthy This Winter
Nourish’s Favourite Supplements to Keep You Healthy This Winter
Twitter – @nourishstores
*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication
Photo Credit: http://www.greenpeople.co.uk/