Most people think of November as the beginning of the holiday season, but it’s also the start of another time of year – cold and flu season. As the weather gets colder and we spend more time inside in confined spaces, it’s seems almost inevitable that we’re going to start coming down with a soar throat, runny nose and stuffed up head.
Although you can’t totally prevent getting a cold, there are several simple lifestyle things you can do that will keep your immune system strong and keep you feeling healthy all year long.
- Eat a healthy diet
One of the best ways to avoid getting a cold is to eat the foods that help boost your immune system, which means you need to load up on lots of fresh fruits and leafy green vegetables. Specifically, you want to eat foods that are high in Vitamin C (spinach, kale, broccoli, citrus fruits, strawberries, blueberries and more), Vitamin A (broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, dairy products and eggs), and Vitamin D (salmon, avocados, dairy products and eggs). All of these vitamins help your cells fight off viruses and outside toxins that can make you sick.
- Take a Vitamin D supplement
We’ve all heard that getting enough Vitamin C can ward off a cold, but did you know that getting enough Vitamin D is key to staying healthy as well? In fact, researchers from the Queen Mary University of London recently pooled data from 25 different studies and determined that people who were Vitamin D deficient and started taking Vitamin D supplements reduced their chance of getting an infection by half. The best way to absorb Vitamin D is to head outside and spend time in the sunshine. But since we live in the Midwest where it’s cold and dark during much of the winter, it’s also a good idea to take a Vitamin D supplement. However, it’s important to check with your doctor to determine the right amount for you.
- Get a good night’s sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep is a key to keeping your immune system healthy. According to the National Sleep Foundation, when you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces fewer cytokines, which are proteins that help fight off infection and reduce inflammation. In fact, a recent study showed that adults who average only five or six hours of sleep a night were four times more likely to catch a cold than those who got at least seven hours a night.
And sleep doesn’t just prevent a cold. It can also help you recover from a cold faster because sleep helps bolster your immune system and fight off foreign invadors. When you feel a cold coming on, the first thing you should do is try to get extra sleep. Don’t push through it. Instead, try to sleep as long as your body wants to.
- Reduce your stress
While being under stress can’t directly cause you to get sick, it can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to getting attacked by outside viruses. It works like this: When your body is under stress, your body releases cortisol, which suppresses the effectiveness of your immune system. If this only happens once in a while, when you’re actually in acute danger, your body can bounce back. But if you are under chronic stress, your immune system becomes chronically weakened.
To reduce your stress, try breathing exercises or meditation or talking to a therapist. Also, you might want to reduce your commitments and try to take time to relax!
- Get regular exercise
Did you know that exercising not only helps burn calories but it can also keep you healthy, as well? Physical activity helps flush bacteria out of your lungs and airways and also boost your white blood cell count, which helps fight off infections. Plus, exercise helps reduce your stress hormones, which can also boost your immune system. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends you do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week.
However, if you actually feel a cold coming on, you might want to reduce the intensity of your workout. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s fine to exercise when you have a cold as long as your symptoms are all “above the neck” (i.e. runny nose, nasal congestion, minor soar throat). However, if your symptoms are “below the neck” (i.e. chest congestion, cough, upset stomach) or if you have a fever, you should rest until you feel better.
Looking for another way to make sure that your immune system is as strong as possible? You can take lab tests to determine if you have any vitamin or mineral deficiencies that contribute to a weak immune system. At the Center for Holistic Medicine, Dr. Jerry Gore and functional medicine practitioner Tanya Tanzillo both administer these tests.
Remember, take care of yourself and stay healthy this cold and flu season!