In the darkest depths of winter, it may seem like cold and flu season will never end. But preventing these illnesses doesn’t have to mean enclosing yourself in a plastic bubble. After all, our country is home to thousands of incredible cross-country ski trails, and outdoor skating rinks that extend for miles. Getting outside can make Canada’s long winters that much more bearable, which makes it even more important to take care of yourself. Below are five ways that you can naturally boost your immune system.
Eat flu-fighting foods
While it may be tempting to spend your winter hibernation on a strict poutine-only diet, eating well is one of the first steps to improving your body’s ability to fight off infections.
Googling “flu-fighting foods” will pull up countless results—from probiotic yogurt and antioxidant rich blueberries, to mushrooms, which have antibacterial and antiviral properties. However, the focus here should also be on a balanced diet that’s rich in micronutrients. Harvard Medical School advises seeking out foods rich in Vitamin A, B2, B6, C, D, E or Zinc.
Get enough sleep
It’s no coincidence that when we get sick our body’s first response is to stay in bed. Sleep is known to be a powerful infection-fighter. A lack of sleep results in the loss of infection-fighting antibodies and cells. But staying healthy isn’t just about the amount of hours that you clock when you hit the hay—it’s also about quality sleep.
Last year, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center discovered that light sources that disrupt our natural circadian rhythms—such as shift work, jet lag, and even just staying up late—are linked to inflammation and autoimmune diseases. So get to bed regularly, reduce the amount of artificial light in your bedroom (yes, that includes your iPhone), and try not to disrupt your natural sleep cycle.
Bolstering your immune system means taking a holistic approach, which, of course, includes becoming physically active. Recent studies have demonstrated that during exercise immune cells circulate through the body more quickly, improving their ability to kill bacteria and viruses. Over the long-term, this will mean a reduction in sick days by up to 50 per cent.
However, if you’re already reasonably active, don’t rush to start training for a marathon in hopes of warding off the flu. Exercise can have both positive and negative effects on immunity—for example, training for a marathon can actually increase stress-related hormones and lower white blood cell count.
Increase face time
When it seems like nearly everyone around you is sneezing, it may be tempting to build a germ-free bunker and hide from the rest of world. However, isolation from others actually suppresses immune system functions. Studies have demonstrated that people who have more social connections are four times more likely to be able to fight off colds. So don’t hide from the world—be social instead.
Adjust your attitude
As anyone who struggled with acne as a teenager can attest, managing stress levels is the key to clear skin. Keeping your cool is also the secret to fending off cold and flu symptoms. While scientists have had a difficult time determining the correlation between the immune system and stress levels, they do know that prolonged stress over-activates the immune system. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten a cold immediately following a particularly stressful couple of weeks at work!)
Not only that, but a positive attitude and laughter has been demonstrated to increase immune cells and immune system activity. To keep your immune system optimally functioning, learn to meditate, take time out for yourself, and laugh more often. Not only are these powerful stress reducers, they’ll also help to keep your immune system strong.