As flu season approaches, it’s a good time to assess your overall health regimen and adopt protective measures. The cold winter months are a time when we spend more hours indoors, surrounded by friends, family, schoolmates and co-workers with their myriad germs. Our exposure to sunshine often is diminished, which effectively depletes our body’s natural Vitamin D defenses.
Aside from frequent hand washing – recommended by health experts everywhere – there are steps you can take to support your body’s immune system in its constant battle against viruses and bacteria. Here are some suggestions:
Clean your stuff – Doctors and other health professionals know how important this is in preventing the spread of germs. Use an alcohol-based cleaning agent to clean surfaces you and your family frequently touch: doorknobs, countertops, faucet handles, kitchen appliances, cell phones, the TV remote. At work, make it a daily ritual to clean your computer keyboard, phone, and desktop.
Eat more onion and garlic – Both are rich in antioxidants and selenium, members of the Allium family known for its health-promoting effects. Garlic contains antibacterial and antiviral properties, so add it to your recipes in abundance. Supplements are a good idea, too.
Keep your head clear – Healthy mucus membranes and mucus flow help your body flush toxins. When your sinuses and throat feel dry, they’re more likely to attract and harbor nasty microscopic invaders. Avoid treating a stuffed nose with nasal sprays, which tend to dry delicate tissues (you can use a saline spray or flush with a neti pot containing a saline solution). Make good old-fashioned chicken soup a mainstay of your winter menu. Researchers are discovering what grandma suspected all along – the ingredients in chicken soup (stock, carrot, onion, and celery) might actually have a medicinal effect on the body’s immune system.
Get plenty of exercise – Just because it’s cold outside, that’s no excuse for cutting out your workout sessions. Exercise boosts the immune system by clearing out the lymph system. It also boosts mood which is a protective factor in the prevention of illness.
Cut down on sugar – Just a few grams can diminish your white blood cells’ ability to resist infections for several hours. If you must sweeten your food and beverages, choose stevia.
Sleep better – Keep your body’s melatonin levels in balance with regular, good quality sleep. The immune system works best when the body is well rested.
Keep stress levels in check – Another way to wreak havoc with your immune system is to walk around with high levels of stress and anxiety. Practice a few minutes of deep breathing several times a day. Laugh more. Play with your pet. Start and end your day with a brief meditation – there are many good books and CDs that will help you.
Helpful supplements – Probiotics attack pathogenic bacteria and support your body’s white cells in their reaction to invaders. Vitamin D3 will help balance appropriate levels to support immune system function. Echinacea and zinc help protect against colds. And Vitamin C is an essential year-round immune system booster.
What is your favorite tip for keeping winter colds and flu at bay?