Have you been sick this winter? I hate to say this, for fear I might jinx it (!), but somehow I’ve managed to stay well so far. There’s no question that the flu is at an epidemic level this year. With even the gym rats and the organic eaters going down for the count, staying well has become an issue for all of us. Despite what you may hear on commercials for probiotics or other supplements, every system of our bodies is involved in this complex system. When a microbe invades, the immune system fights back to kill the invader, causing an inflammatory response which can include fever, pain, and swelling. Today, I’m sharing ten tips to keep your immune system strong.
1. Watch (and Wash) Your Hands
Germs can linger in unexpected places. Think restaurant menus, the office coffee pot handle, the sign-in pen at the pharmacy or doctor’s office, and the ground floor elevator button. This makes frequent hand-washing critical! Experts say that the most significant mistake people make is not washing long enough (20+ seconds is optimum) and not washing well enough (be sure to get in between fingers, under nails, and the backs of your hands). I wash my hands so much at this time of year that they get all raw and cracked. A dear friend told me about EO Botanical Hand Sanitizer Gel, which is made from Sugar Cane Ethanol — a natural disinfectant that does no harm when absorbed into the skin — and is 99.9% effective against germs. It also contains Vitamin E, Vegetable Glycerin, and Jojoba Seed Oil, so it actually replenishes moisture. It’s changed my life!
2. Do the “D”
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for a robust immune system. In the winter, when our sun exposure is limited, it’s more important than ever to eat vitamin D-fortified foods or take a daily supplement.
3. Sleep Seven
According to recent studies, people who slept seven or more hours were four times less likely to develop a cold than those who slept six or fewer hours. Did you catch my recent post on the importance of a consistent bedtime routine in getting a good night’s sleep?
4. Don’t Smoke
Smoking is an immune system disrupter. It raises levels of infection-fighting white blood cells, which leaves smokers vulnerable to common illnesses, as well as cancer, stroke, and heart attack.
5. Don’t Hesitate to Vaccinate
Even though this year’s flu vaccine is only 36 percent effective, it’s still better than nothing. Since flu typically hangs around through May, if you haven’t gotten yours, it’s not too late. It takes about two weeks to become fully protective.
6. Eat Right & Be Wary of the Wine
We all know the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s just difficult to make ourselves do it. (Did you catch my recent post on that very issue?) Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. Also, watch your alcohol intake. Although moderate drinking is good for the heart, drinking more than one drink a day for women and two for men suppresses the immune system.
Don’t Do Sweat It
According to a 2009 study, moderate intensity exercise boosts the immune system and helps it fight respiratory illnesses. Brisk walking is considered moderate intensity. Aim for at least 20 minutes daily to reap the benefits.
8. Use a Saline Spray
Even as far back as 2004, researchers proved that using a saline nasal spray daily significantly reduced the risk of contracting an upper respiratory infection. It flushes out mucus and bacteria and adds moisture to the nasal passages — which helps combat stuffiness, congestion, and prevent infection. I use Simply Saline Nasal Mist several times a day this time of year.
9. Sing a Song
Anything that feeds your soul is good for your body. In fact, several studies have found that singing in a choir actually boosts the immune system. Apparently, in addition to reducing stress, inducing relaxation, and improving mood, this type of activity increases levels of cytokines, which are an immune system protein that helps fight illness.
10. Brush Your Teeth (Often)
There are 400 to 500 species of bacteria living in your mouth at any given time. Viruses can use bacteria as factories to grow and multiply. If a virus makes its way into your mouth (from touching your hands to your mouth or biting your nails), then it can take hold. The fewer bacteria in your mouth, the less likely the virus will grow. Additionally, bacterial infections in the chest are believed to be caused by breathing droplets from the mouth and throat into the lungs. Several recent studies (more info here, here, and here) have shown a higher pneumonia mortality rate from people with poor oral hygiene. Most of us brush twice a day, but we might want to up that during cold and flu season. I love my Phillips Sonicare toothbrush, because you can adjust the intensity level (I tend to brush too hard, causing my gums to recede. TMI — Sorry!) and because it comes with a carrying case.
What do you do to keep your immune system supercharged during cold and flu season? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments. Stay well, sweet friends!
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