If you’re living in North Carolina, consider yourself lucky: Our winters produce low temperatures just hovering around the freezing point of 32°. There’s still a need to bundle up and take preventive steps to avoid getting a cold or worse, the flu. If you’re wondering how to boost your immune system and what steps to take to keep you and your family healthy through the rest of the winter, look no further!
A Few Fast Facts
The winter months between December and March create a perfect storm for poor health. There are fewer hours of sunlight so it’s harder to get vitamin D, an important factor for the immune system’s strength; it’s colder outside so more people are spending a majority of their day inside and limiting their exposure to the sun; and more people contract colds or experience flu-like symptoms. Here are a few fast facts about how the winter season can lead to a weakened immune system:
Populations at Risk
Everyone should make an effort to strengthen the immune system. The populations with the highest risk include those who:
- Don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep.
- Don’t manage stress, which can lead to the body’s release of hormones that actually suppress the immune system.
- Eat a diet that has low nutritional value or that’s high in sugar or fat.
- Are older adults that may have immune systems that respond slower than young adults.
- Smoke or use other tobacco products.
- Have immune system diseases such as multiple sclerosis and lupus.
Risks of Not Building up Your Immune System
Even if you’re not part of a population at risk, you probably come in contact with someone who is, which is why it’s so important to boost your immune system to stop the spread of chronic diseases. Having a weak immune system means a person is more prone to:
- Colds and cold symptoms
- Cold sores
- Longer healing times for wounds or illnesses
Benefits of Making Changes to Build Up and Nourish Your Immune System
You come in contact with germs and bacteria every day. From shaking hands at work, school, or church, to exchanging cash, to using doorknobs. Building up and nourishing your immune system means you can avoid:
- Missing work or school. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the common cold is the main reason why adults miss work and children miss school every year.
- Feeling pain and fatigue from being sick. The average cold takes seven to 10 days to recover. That’s a whole week – or more – of experiencing symptoms like fatigue, runny nose, headaches, and a sore throat.
How to Boost Your Immune System
Most people contract colds in the winter and spring months, so now is probably a great time to figure out how to boost your immune system.
The good news is that strengthening your immune system takes a few small changes in your daily habits. Check out your options:
The Greek physician Hippocrates famously said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” What he meant by that was to use food as an energy source and a means to prevent illnesses. What you eat greatly impacts the strength of your immune system. Immune-boosting foods include:
- Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, limes, and lemons
- Vegetables with deep, rich colors – indicative of immune-boosting compounds like vitamin c – such as spinach, red bell peppers, and broccoli
- Green tea
As part of a healthy lifestyle, exercise is recommended for everyone. And while it hasn’t yet been proven that it impacts the immune system, there are theories that physical activity does help to strengthen your system. Some of these theories include:
- Exercise raises the body’s temperature; a higher body temperature makes it harder for bacteria or infections to thrive. Essentially, this theory is that the extra heat generated by exercise is similar to having a fever as far as infections or illnesses are concerned.
- Exercise lowers the release of stress hormones, which are known to negatively impact the immune system.
Regardless of how exercise can help strengthen the immune system, it does. In the Research Triangle Park cities of Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill, there are plenty of options for exercise all year round, including:
- Rock climbing
- Designated bike paths
- Fitness gyms such as Anytime Fitness and Fitness World
- Dance studios
- Clubs such as running clubs or hiking and outdoors groups
Whatever your exercise preference is – with a group, by yourself, indoors or outdoors – it should be easy to find something you’ll enjoy.
Like exercise, it’s tough to say whether or not herbs and supplements bolster the immune system. There have been some small studies, but no large-scale, long-term research on the subject.
Some supplements that could help the immune system include probiotics, which increase the “good” bacteria in your gut that can help fight infections or “bad” bacteria that cause illness. Other examples include fish oil and multivitamins.
Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. He or she knows your health history, your allergies, and your current medications and should be able to advise you on which supplements would be safe for you to take to strengthen your immune system.
You should be drinking roughly between half an ounce and one ounce of water per pound you weigh each day. Water helps your entire body function properly, including your immune system. It also helps to flush toxins out of your system and keeps your lymph production – i.e. the method that your body uses to distribute white blood cells that fight infections throughout your body – at full steam.
Get out there, stock your ‘fridge with immune-boosting foods, guzzle that water, and make exercise a priority so your immune system is ready to defend your body. Get help boosting your immune system. Click here to schedule a consultation.