How to Prepare Your Immune System for Flu Season (+ 5 Foods That Will Combat Any Illness)
Photo © Alexandra Gorn
There are a lot of things to be excited about in the coming months such as the beauty of Autumn and the magic of the holidays. However, with the change of season also comes cold and flu season. While the actual time frames vary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pinpoints the increase in influenza to be generally in October and peaking between December and February.
We've all been there with a sore throat, coughing and fever, among other symptoms. It doesn't have to be that way. Let's focus on keeping our immune systems strong to prepare for the coming war against influenza!
Wash Your Hands
The first defence against germs is to keep your hands clean, especially after touching public surfaces such as door handles, shopping carts and money. Always wash your hands after shaking someone else's - even if they are not showing symptoms, they could be carrying germs.
Get Enough Sleep
Adults should be getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Most of us are getting around 6.5 hours of sleep or even less. Proper sleep habits aren't only important, so you don't fall asleep at the office. Good rest is also critical because it helps to produce cytokines, which are proteins that help fight infections.
Most of us want to exercise because we want that perfect body. It should be more motivating to know that exercise can help protect you from sickness. People who work out have higher white blood cell motility and function. White blood cells are instrumental in protecting our bodies from pesky germ invaders.
The hairs in our noses are called cilia. These hairs are a defensive mechanism that traps harmful substances before they can reach your lungs and get into your body. Smoking destroys these hairs and makes it easier for lurking bacteria to ambush your immune system through the nasal cavity. Quitting smoking will save you from the flu and protect your hard earned money.
Get Your Shot
Whether you are concerned about safety or don't feel the need to take the extra step, many people skip out on flu shots each season. Consistently, about 40% of you will take the time to get vaccinated. Let's try to raise that 40% and stop the spread of influenza. The flu shot causes antibodies to develop which combine with harmful bacteria and neutralise it.
Stay Away from Alcohol
Always drink in moderation, but especially during flu season. Alcohol alters your cells and can decrease immune function for up to 24 hours after you drink. It inhibits your ability to stun bacteria which also reduces the strength of your antibodies to kill the enemy.
There is such a thing as healthy stress. Motivational stress only lasts short periods and can benefit your immune system. In contrast, bad stress lasts weeks or months and can do a lot of damage to your body. Besides depression, anxiety and heart disease, long periods of stress also reduce the immune system's ability to protect the body. Stress alone can cause colds, but it also makes you more vulnerable to more severe sickness like the flu.
Sharing Isn't Always Caring
During flu season, it's imperative not to share straws or finger foods with others. It can take one sip of your best friend's Coke or one dip in the salsa bowl to contract unwanted flu-causing germs.
It's also helpful to eat immune-boosting foods. Make an effort to incorporate the following into your diet:
Red bell pepper
It would be beating a dead horse to explain the importance of Vitamin C in respect to the immune system. What you may not know is that bell peppers have twice the amount of Vitamin C as citrus. So skip slamming sugary orange juice and use peppers as often as you can.
Garlic is considered a superfood. Over the centuries, it has been used to treat myriad ailments including heart disease and some cancers. It is a low-calorie food packed with vitamin C, B6 and manganese as well as antioxidants. It contains sulfuric compounds that boost your immune system and help fight against infections.
Consuming spinach is another way to get your Vitamin C without eating citrus. It's antioxidant, and beta-carotene content makes spinach a soldier against infection. Rather than eating it completely raw or wholly cooked, the way to enhance the benefits of spinach is to slightly cook it. This activates other nutrients you would otherwise be missing.
As with all aspects of health, keeping a healthy immune system is all about balance. Vitamin E has been living in the shadow of Vitamin C. This vitamin is essential to fighting infection. Almonds contain a lot of vitamin E. The healthy fats in almonds help to properly dissolve the Vitamin E more effectively, so you can keep your immunity strong.
Continuing with the idea of balance, zinc is another nutrient that is often overlooked but necessary for optimal immune function. Crabs, clams and lobster, to name a few, are heavy with zinc. Just be careful not to eat too much. When women consume more than 8 mg of zinc per day, it can be detrimental rather than beneficial.
Even if you come into contact with germs, building a healthy immune system will lessen the risk of falling ill. October is just around the corner, so be proactive. Start implementing these tips now to save yourself from sick days and doctor's visits.