How to Prevent Sickness and Keep your Immune System Strong
Natalie Butler, RD, LD
Cold and flu season is upon us, but it’s not too late to strengthen your immune system! Fall and winter illnesses are easily spread from person to person in the workplace, home and shopping areas; use these important tips to help keep you healthy this winter and holiday season.
1. Vitamin C. When getting adequate Vitamin C daily, there is some evidence to show you are less likely to catch a cold. Vitamin C rich foods are kiwi, guava, papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, pineapple, citrus fruits, and dark leafy greens. It’s best to eat these foods in their fresh, raw form as supplements don’t seem to provide the same benefit.
2. Get moving! Researchers report you can cut your risk of catching a cold by 50% by engaging in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily because it doubles your germ-fighting antibodies. Moderate-intensity is about a 6 on a 1-10 intensity scale. And brisk walking works just great!
3. Helpful fats. Trans fats, from hydrogenated oils, can weaken your body’s response when foreign invaders attack. Instead, focus on anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fats, found in salmon, cod, pollock, haddock, tuna, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, omega 3 eggs, walnuts and canola oil, which support your immune function.
4. Drink tea. Some research shows that 20 ounces of black tea a day triples your interferon production (immune cells that attack viral invaders).
5. Wash, wash, wash your hands. Proper hand washing for at least 20 seconds, is the single best way to reduce the spread of illness!
6. Eat broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and garlic, which improve overall immune function by increasing white blood cells and antibodies in your body. Other colorful fruits and veggies are important as well.
7. Get Enough Vitamin D. Though sunlight is the recommended source, sunlight is not likely to be enough in the winter months, or if you have darker skin, are older than 50 and/or live in the northern hemisphere. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a decrease in immune cell function. Aim for 1,000 IU’s per day.
8. Sleep. Sleep deprivation reduces your protection from vaccines, lowers “killer” immune cell activity, and increases inflammatory cells called cytokines, making you more prone to illness and infection.
9. Eat breakfast. Breakfast eaters are half as likely to catch a viral infection because morning meals increase your body’s production of gamma interferon, an antiviral compound.
10. Manage your stress. Long-term stress has detrimental effects on immune function so learn to better manage its’ effects by engaging in daily exercise, deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, tai chi and having a positive attitude.
11. Eat probiotic-rich foods daily. Probiotics are good bacteria that live in your colon and are vital for optimal immune function. Stock up on fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and miso soup.
12. Develop Proper Hygiene – Avoid touching your face, eyes, and nose; cover your sneezes and coughs. Keeping your hands off of your face can reduce your risk of contracting a bad cold or flu by 47%!
Though not guaranteed to stave off every illness, you increase your chances of staying healthy and making the most of holidays and vacation time when you maintain an active lifestyle and healthy diet all year long.
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