As the weather begins to turn colder and we are forced inside, our chances of catching cold or flu viruses shoot through the roof. Especially this year, as we spend more time than ever indoors with our nerves running high about the global health crisis, getting sick is the last thing that anyone wants to deal with. Fortunately, there are a plethora of things that you can do to help to prevent illnesses and put your best foot forward during this year’s cold and flu season.
Focus on Healthy Food
Food is the way we fuel our bodies, and eating properly is one crucial way to assure that our bodies are strong enough to fight off sickness and keep us healthy. Fruits and vegetables take first place when it comes to supporting immune health. They are packed with an array of vitamins and nutrients that keep vital processes in the body running smoothly, and protect against aggressors from the outside world. Leafy green vegetables and carrots are rich in beta-carotene which is an antioxidant that protects cells against free-radical damage and can increase immune cell count. Many fruits and vegetables like citrus, broccoli and peppers are full of vitamin C, which is another powerful antioxidant. One more antioxidant that can be helpful in keeping the immune system strong is vitamin E. This nutrient can be found in nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. Zinc has also been proven to be an extremely beneficial nutrient to the immune system as so many enzymes involved with proper immune function are dependent on zinc supply. This is a nutrient that is more abundant in beans, legumes, meat and fish. Speaking of fish, salmon is a nutritious option and contains vitamin D, which is key for immune health. One serving of farmed salmon contains one-third of the daily recommended dose of vitamin D.
All of these foods are part of a healthy and balanced diet and should be consumed regularly for an extended period of time in order for the body to reap the most benefits from them. It can sometimes be difficult to find fresh fruits and vegetables in the winter time if you live in a very cold climate, but try to eat seasonally, and try out recipes using frozen or canned fruits and vegetables!
Though the last thing you may want to be doing in subzero temperatures is working out, sticking to a simple exercise plan during winter months can help you to fend off illness. Exercise is crucial for cardiovascular and respiratory health as it increases heart rate and breathing, which in turn strengthens those bodily functions. What’s more, it can potentially have positive effects on the body’s immune system, as well. There are educated theories that suggest the increase in blood circulation during exercise can increase the circulation of white blood cells and antibodies which can help to detect and attack pathogens in the bloodstream more quickly. Exercise can also decrease the production of stress hormones in the body. Too much stress can weaken the immune system by suppressing white blood cell count and increasing inflammation in the body.
Exercise is important to your overall physical and mental health, and should be something you try to incorporate into your regular routine. It not only strengthens you physically, but it boosts your mental state which can have profound effects on the body, as well. Try signing up for group exercise classes so that you are held accountable by instructors or peers to keep coming to class, or find friends who are interested in staying fit during cold and flu season too!
Relaxation Methods and Ways to Get More Rest
The use of mind-body medicine as an alternative way to combat illness has grown more popular over recent years. This type of holistic healing focuses on ways in which a person’s mental state is related to their brain and bodily functions. Mind-body health practices include yoga, meditation, hypnosis and general relaxation training.
Studies suggest that increased time spent relaxing has a positive correlation with the prevalence of antibodies, specifically immunoglobin A, in the body. This indicates that taking time to rest and relax can improve the body’s immune system functionality. Taking time to relax also reduces the amount of stress hormones present in the body which, as mentioned above, can reduce the negative impact of those stress hormones on the immune system.
Some ways to incorporate relaxation techniques into your life may be by listening to guided meditation tracks online or enrolling in a yoga class. You can also begin practicing mindfulness which helps to pull you out of your head and keep you in the present moment. It teaches you to adopt an attitude of gratitude toward life, and will give you a more positive outlook on things that may have caused you stress in the past. When you feel good mentally, you will feel good physically, as well!
Supplements and Holistic Remedies
The tried-and-true supplements that work best for boosting immune function are really just concentrated forms of vitamins that are part of a healthy and balanced diet. These include antioxidants such as vitamins C, E and beta carotene, zinc and vitamin D are also crucial for good immunity. If you don’t get much of these in your diet regularly, you may be deficient, and should consider taking a supplement until your vitamin levels are back up to normal. There are lots of options out there when it comes to taking supplements. You can find supplements in easy-to-take forms, like gummies, or even smaller versions that dissolve right under your tongue sublingually (like Frunutta). Frunutta makes a line of sublingual supplements, including Vitamin D3, Zinc + Vitamin C, and Vitamin C.
Other holistic supplements that are gaining popularity include elderberry, which has some evidence to suggest that it can shorten recovery time from a cold or other mild illness. It does this by activating the immune system to produce more antibodies and other immune cells. Vitamin B complex also helps mediate immune system functions like proliferation of blood cells and production of antibodies. This complex includes vitamin B12 and vitamin B6, both of which are crucial vitamins to overall health, as well.
As cold and flu season approaches, make sure that taking care of yourself remains a priority, even as the pressures of school or work mount. Eat healthily, stay active, get enough sleep, and of course, be kind to yourself mentally in order to avoid unnecessary stress!
Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and expert in the fields of nutrition, diet and addiction, with a special focus on nutrition during early life and pregnancy. Her research achievements have been honored by awards from several groups including the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She is an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York, NY and is a visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University in New Jersey. Dr. Avena has written several books, including What to Eat When You’re Pregnant and What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler. She regularly appears as a science expert on the Dr. Oz Show, Good Day NY and The Doctors, as well as many other news programs. Her work has been featured in Bloomberg Business Week, Time Magazine for Kids, The New York Times, Shape, Men’s Health, Details, as well as many other periodicals. Dr. Avena blogs for Psychology Today, is a member of the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau and has the No. 2 most watched TED-ED Health talk, “How Sugar Affects Your Brain.” You can follow Dr. Avena on Twitter (@DrNicoleAvena), Facebook (www.facebook.com/DrNicoleAvena) and Instagram (@drnicoleavena), or visit www.drnicoleavena.com.