Holiday season is cold and flu season—but it doesn’t have to be for you. We are going to show you how you can support your immune system and fight off wintertime viruses.
The holiday season presents many challenges to our immune system in the form of stress, eating more sugary foods, changes in the weather, and travel. When your immunity drops, viruses have free reign to set up residence in your mucous membranes. The result: upper respiratory infections and secondary bacterial infections.
The good news is that you can be proactive in keeping your immune system optimally healthy. Your overall lifestyle—diet, exercise, stress levels, emotional wellness—should enhance your health, not destroy it. As the season changes, if you are getting frequent infections and feeling depleted and tired at day’s end, that’s a sure sign that you need to pay attention to your lifestyle and make some changes.
What’s wonderful about our bodies is that they have the ability to fight off viruses and heal themselves naturally—as long as we are helping, not hindering, those natural processes. Here are some ways you can boost your body’s immune system this holiday season and beyond.
A simple way to understand stress comes from Roger Mellot, internationally known expert on stress management. He says we have a limited amount of energy to expend each day, and that our stress levels increase significantly when we spend the majority of our time on things we value least. So ask yourself this question: Where am I spending my time and energy each day? For example, are you working like crazy at the office to meet deadlines, and feeling guilty that your family at home is being neglected? If you value your family more than your work, then the way you are prioritizing your time will produce stress. You will be happier and healthier by putting your energy and time into people and activities you love and value most. In other words, get clear about your values and live by them. After the holidays wind down, make this a New Year’s resolution: Identify your top three values, and then begin to rearrange your schedule so that you are spending your time proportionate to what’s most important to you.
You can maintain strong immunity by eating healthfully. It’s quite common for many of us to consume foods and drinks around holiday time that we normally don’t have, in quantities to which we’re unaccustomed. Eating a poor diet with lots of sugary foods is one of the quickest ways to lower your immunity to winter viruses. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, sugar can impair your immune cells’ ability to fight off infection. Keep immunity strong by limiting sugary and processed foods, and by increasing whole foods that are rich in nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and low-fat animal products. During times when you are most vulnerable to colds and flu, it’s also a great idea to eat more garlic. Numerous studies have found that garlic supports the body’s immune system and has potent antibacterial properties as well.
Stay physically active.
Regular exercise makes you feel good, look good, and helps your immune system function better. Research published in the August 2000 British Journal of Sports Medicine points to a direct benefit: “Moderate exercise across the life span seems to increase resistance to upper respiratory tract infections.” The key word here is moderate, as the researchers also found that “repeated strenuous exercise suppresses the immune system.” For most of us, however, too much vigorous exercise is not the problem! This holiday season is a great time to start exercising regularly. Schedule winter walks with your partner and your friends. Ask for a gift certificate to a local gym or yoga studio. Begin dance classes. Find something you love to do, and try to make it a regular activity. This is one of the best, and most enjoyable, ways to strengthen your immune system.
Sleep and rest plenty.
There is a reason why sleep is often called “healing sleep.” Adequate sleep is critical to a healthy immune system. I am always surprised to discover how many of my adult patients are sleep deprived, either because they have trouble falling or staying asleep, or don’t allow themselves more than five or six hours a night. A study in the January 1998 Psychosomatic Medicine found that poor-quality sleep is detrimental to your immune system. It also stated that lack of sleep leads to elevated stress levels, which can raise stress hormones, in turn preventing a good night’s sleep and resulting in decreased immunity. So sleep and stress and immunity are all interrelated. You will know how much sleep your body and immune system need by following this simple rule of thumb: You should feel rested when you wake up. Turn sleeping into an enjoyable ritual. Go to be early. Buy a new pillow. Sleep in a dark room. Luxuriate in healing sleep. Take naps.
Holidays come but once a year. The best way to enjoy them is by staying healthy and strong. If you keep these tips in mind, your immune system will be robust and you should be able to celebrate the holidays this year without sniffles, sneezing, fevers, and body aches. Happy holidays!