Sadly, the summer vacations have ended and most of us are back to our daily school or work schedules. Autumn is finally settling in and winter is on its way, as well as the flu and the almost inevitable cold virus. Our first line of defence are our immune systems, they determine whether we get sick or not. Although our immune systems are pretty amazing and work to fight off bacteria and viruses on their own; they are still systems that need a balance of key requirements to work efficiently. It does take a bit more effort than loading up on Vitamin C to fend off a nasty cold, but if you make these changes you might be able to forget what a nasty cold feels like. All it takes is a few lifestyle and dietary tweaks that would allow the immune system to do its job and do it well. Here are a few tips for keeping you out of the “cold remedies” aisle at the pharmacy:
Reducing stress may be a stretch but managing stress is key. Our bodies release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol as a response to stress; which is a survival mechanism for fight or flight situations. We may not be in fight or flight situations on a daily basis but many of us do experience chronic stress due to heavy workloads, financial hardships and juggling child care and errands. Chronic stress taxes our immune system and makes us more susceptible to common colds and other viruses. Next time you are feeling stressed, take a 5 minute break and meditate, take some long and deep breaths or call a close friend or a family member to chat or watch a funny video for a laugh.
Get enough Sleep
Lack of sleep suppresses immune system’s function by activating stress response and increasing inflammatory chemicals. Adequate sleep allows our bodies to recover and renew which is necessary for fighting off infections, supporting metabolism, productivity, memory and overall well-being.
Exercise is a great stress reliever and mood booster. Some studies have shown that moderate exercise a few days per week greatly reduces the number of colds you will have in one year. Not only does it boost your immune system, it also releases dopamine which is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure and happiness. Exercise also reduces stress and anxiety, and improves sleeping problems.
A well balanced diet filled with foods containing antioxidant vitamins and minerals is necessary for an efficient immune system. Antioxidants prevent cellular damage due to free radicals and are critical for maintaining optimal health. The three major antioxidants are: beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. Antioxidants are found in colorful fruits and vegetables; you want to look for purple, blue, orange and red hues. These foods include: berries, carrots, broccoli, pumpkin, bell peppers, mango, raspberries, red kidney beans and many more. Also make sure you are getting enough of the essential minerals such as zinc, iron, selenium, copper and magnesium. These can be found, in shellfish,fish, beans and meats. As long as you have a balanced diet and increase your intake of a variety of fruits and vegetables you should be in good standing and do not need to take additional supplements.
Get your Vitamin D
Vitamin D has been associated with boosting immune cells’ production of microbe-fighting proteins. One of the ways we get our dose of vitamin D is by being out in the sun or from foods such as salmon, milk, fortified cereals and eggs. During the fall and winter, days get shorter and the nights get longer. Our exposure to sun decreases, especially if we tend to stay indoors more. Although, Vitamin D deficiency is not as common anymore because many foods such as milk, juices and grain products have been fortified with vitamin D. Many people, who do not have balanced diets or have very restrictive diets are more susceptible to vitamin D deficiency. A blood test can show whether you are deficient or not, that way you can look into adding more vitamin D rich foods to your diet or taking supplements if needed.
The functions of immunity rely on a complex system that involves many components. As mentioned before, our immune systems are equipped to battle many harmful infections but they do require our efforts to stay healthy and well rested. A balanced diet, regular exercise and sleep can support our immune systems in fending off the flu, cold and other viruses.