With winter around the corner, it’s time to start taking steps to boost and fortify your immune system. Let’s face it, flu season can be rough for many.
But there are some things you can do to protect yourself and your family from season illness, from the food you eat to how much exercise you get.
Let’s dive into the eight things you can do to help strengthen your body’s immune response. As a result, you’ll be better equipped to handle whatever winter throws your way.
1. Watch Your Diet
A lot of foods can help strengthen your immune response by supporting the health of your gut, also known as your gastrointestinal tract.1 For example, many fruits and vegetables contain lactic acid bacteria. These beneficial microbes send signals that activate cells in the immune system, helping the body respond to an invader, such as a harmful virus.2
You might also want to consider taking a probiotic supplement to help make sure your gut has an ample supply of good bacteria. Research suggests probiotics may help reduce the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.3
Slow down on the sweets
Winter is the time of year where families gather to celebrate. And those celebrations will typically include a lot of comfort foods. Sure, pies, cakes, and cookies taste great, and while you might be tempted to overindulge, don’t. Sweets like these not only pack on the pounds, they might also weaken your immunity. This can be dangerous during flu season.
Taking in too much glucose can increase something called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can lead to the development of dangerous molecules known as free radicals. These free radicals can cause tissue damage, and this can make you more susceptible to illness.4 Offset your glucose intake by making sure you eat foods such as beans and leafy greens. These foods are high in fiber, which helps slow the digestive process. This helps you avoid the potentially dangerous spikes in blood sugar due to excessive glucose levels.
2. Get Plenty of Exercise
It can be hard to work up the motivation to exercise when it’s cold outside. But exercise is great for immunity. Aerobic exercise is especially effective. It helps stimulate circulation of white blood cells throughout your body. These cells target harmful microbes and destroy them.5
Research also shows getting regular exercise during the winter months may help fight off symptoms of the common cold. According to one study, people who worked out at least five times a week suffered from a cold for an average of 40 percent fewer days than those who didn’t work out. The reason, according to the researchers, is that exercise helps stimulate the production of neutrophils, or germ-fighting cells.6
3. Manage Your Stress
While winter can be incredibly enjoyable, it can be quite stressful as well. Organizing holiday parties and running around to find gifts can wear you out. Prolonged stress can do a number on your immunity.7 One of the reasons is that it can affect an organ known as the thymus.8 Located in the lymphatic system, the thymus produces T-cells – immune cells specifically designed to target viruses and other harmful microbes.9 Staying active and eating healthy are just a couple of ways you can help manage your stress levels.
4. Get Plenty of Sleep
Wintertime stress and a lack of sleep can often go hand in hand. This can also have a negative effect on your immune system. Sleep is the time that your immune cells are at their most active. So, if you feel like you might be coming down with some sort of illness, get as much rest as you can. That way, your immune system will be able to do its work on your behalf.10
5. Wash Your Hands Frequently
Washing your hands frequently is always a good idea. But it’s especially important to do so during the winter. Shopping malls are usually packed this time of year, and that means you’ll be in contact with more germs. Shared surfaces, such as handrails, doorknobs, and even elevator buttons, are breeding grounds for harmful microbes. When you touch an infected surface and then touch your face, that’s a recipe for illness.11
Fortunately, many public places now offer hand sanitizers. A sanitizer allows you to conveniently clean your hands, so you don’t have to stop what you’re doing and head to the nearest bathroom. But if there aren’t any sanitizers available, bring your own, if possible. The most effective ones contain at least 60 percent alcohol.12
6. Get Plenty of Vitamin D in Your Diet
As many as 75 percent of U.S. adults have a vitamin D deficiency. As a result, they may face a higher risk of catching a cold than those who have an ample supply of the vitamin, which helps boost immunity.13 Even though you can get plenty of vitamin D through sunlight, it can be difficult during the wintertime. That’s when you should turn to foods high in the vitamin, such as fortified milk. Some yogurts, margarines, and orange juice are fortified with vitamin D as well. Egg yolks and cheese contain some vitamin D, and tuna, mackerel, and salmon are also good sources.14
7. Save Your Skin
Your skin plays a very important role in helping your immune system do its job. In fact, it’s home to somewhere around 20 billion virus-fighting T-cells. There are more T-cells in the skin than in the blood.15
You want to keep your skin as healthy as you can, especially during the winter months, when you need the boost it can provide to your immunity. Cold temperatures can be damaging to skin, putting it at a high risk of cracking. You can help your skin – and your immune system in the process – by making extra sure to use moisturizer. Moisturize when you get out of the shower, and keep lotions nearby if you feel your skin getting tight and dry.
8. Stay Warm
It’s especially important to keep yourself warm during the winter months. By dressing appropriately, you can help protect your body from harmful viruses. Dressing in layers is particularly important when it turns bitterly cold. The reason is the warm air between those layers will help ensure your body temperature stays at a safe level. If you live in an area where the temperature fluctuates, pay attention to your local weather forecast. It might be in the 70s during the day, but a cold front could send temperatures plummeting rapidly. Bring a jacket or coat with you on a day where a front might be blowing through, so you’ll be prepared.
Pay Attention to the Signs of the Flu
It’s important to follow these tips to help reduce your chances of getting sick. But even if you take precautions, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get through the entire winter unscathed. You have to be vigilant during flu season. The earlier you take action if you start to feel ill, the better your chances of getting well faster.
One Last Word
If you eat the right foods and take precautions, you will have a much better chance of staying healthy during the winter. It’s important to do everything you can to boost your immunity when the temperatures dip. Try to eat healthy, get plenty of rest (especially if you feel a cold coming on), and do your best to alleviate stress. All of these things can help ensure you’ll be healthy and happy, even when the weather outside is frightful.