Feeling the ‘flu fear’? Sense that ‘seasonal sniffles’ are approaching despite your borderline-OCD efforts to avoid it? Avoid winter bugs and nasties by changing common lifestyle habits which can affect your ability to fight off infections like colds and flu – as well as your overall resistance to chronic illness. Have a look at the following list and see if any habits need adopting, or dropping!
GET ACTIVE. Studies show that regular, moderate exercise – like a daily 30 minute walk - increases the level of immune system cells. When you’re a non-exerciser, your risk of infections, such as colds increase, compared to those who exercise. Beth MacEoin, a writer specialising in health and immunity, advises getting your heart rate up for 20 minutes just three times a week for increased immune function, and can help reduce your risk of catching a cold.
DROP THE POUNDS. Carrying extra weight puts you at risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. TV doctor and health expert, Dr Pixie McKenna says that part of the reason may be because having a high number of fat cells triggers the release of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body, leading to chronic inflammation and tissue damage. Studies of obese and overweight mice show they make fewer antibodies after receiving common vaccinations.
TRANSFORM YOUR DIET. Health writer and nutritionist Angela Dowden says ‘Your diet is the most powerful natural weapon against flu and colds’. A diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients can boost immunity to help fight infection. But make sure to get them from natural food sources like brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, including berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, red grapes, kale, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Don't cheat with mega-dose supplements which could have the opposite effect.
REDUCE SUGAR. Ingesting too much sugar suppresses the immune system cells. Even consuming just 75 to 100 grams of a sugar solution (about two fizzy drinks) reduces the ability of white blood cells to fight bacteria. This effect is seen for at least a few hours after consuming a sugary drink. Cut down or cut out regular fizzy drinks and limit sweet-treats to one a day.
LEARN TO RELAX. Everyone has some stress in their lives and whilst short-term stress may boost the immune system, chronic stress has the opposite effect making you more vulnerable to illness, from colds to serious diseases. It’s all due to the excess exposure of your body to the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which suppress the immune system. Learning techniques to reduce stress should help return your immune system to health – and maybe even give it an additional boost.
SLEEP TIGHT. Fatigue increases your susceptibility to illness. In one experiment students were limited to only four hours of sleep a night for six nights and then given a flu vaccine. Their immune systems produced only half the normal number of antibodies. Ensure eight hours of slumber for a healthy immune system.
LAUGH OUT LOUD. Laughing decreases the levels of stress hormones in the body while increasing endorphins, growth hormone and white blood cells, all of which benefit the immune system. Having strong relationships and a good social network is important to your physical health, with several studies supporting the idea that people who feel connected to friends have stronger immunity than those who feel alone.
features writer & lifestyle blogger and avid shoe wearer.