How to support your immunity this winter
Now the temperature has dropped here in the UK, and we’re starting to hear more coughs and sniffs out and about… I’ve been thinking more on how best to support my immune system over the next months. With COVID-19 still very prevalent, there’s even more incentive this winter to take some steps to support yourself.
While there’s no magic bullet to prevent you catching a virus, supporting your immunity can reduce it’s impact or the likelihood of catching it in the first place. And you might be surprised by how much we can control when it comes to immunity.
Tips to support your immunity, and help prevent colds and viruses
This is an area that can be really overlooked when it comes to its impact on our immunity. A little stress is important for us to function, but chronic stress inhibits the immune system from working properly. When we’re under stress or in ‘fight or flight’, our body releases stress hormones like cortisol that can compromise immune function.
As we head into December (and likely your calendar is looking busier than it has done in a while!) remember to take time out to pause and look after yourself. In the run up to Christmas we can spend so much time worrying about others, getting the perfect presents or booking in to see everyone we can, so it’s important to put yourself first too.
Take a bit of time out each day to dedicate to relaxation, to help you retain balance and keep stress levels in check. I love this simple breathing exercise to help reduce stress hormones. When done every day, it can make a big difference!
Load up on vegetables
We all grew up learning that vegetables are good for our health but it’s important to realise that they are essential for our good health. That’s something I definitely used to take for granted. Our immune system needs the broad variety of vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables to function at its best.
Specific compounds found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and cabbage, have been found to be essential in sustaining immune function in the gut lining (where 70% of your immune defence lives!)
Try adding an extra portion of your choice of dark, leafy greens to your diet once a day.
Support your gut microbiome
The balance of our gut bacteria determines our overall health, and as our immune system predominantly lives in the gut lining, you can see why it has a big impact on immunity.
So, how do we help the bacteria in our gut lining to find a healthy balance? Cutting out or limiting inflammatory foods like processed food, sugar and alcohol, is very helpful. But I think it’s often more useful to think about what we can add in, rather than take away. Adding in nutritious foods will mean that you’ll naturally crowd out the bad stuff too.
We can feed our microbiome by including a wide range of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and pulses. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kefir and kombucha also help the good guys in our gut to grow. If you’re going to try fermented foods, start in very small amounts as it can initially cause bloating, stomach upset and gas initially.
Get enough sleep
At some point you’ve probably had a stressful period where you’ve not slept well, and you started to feel pretty run down. That’s because sleep is vital to our immune health. The importance of sleep has been well studied, and we know that in particular sound sleep allows our T cells, which play a vital role in our immune defence, to function well.
While our needs in this department vary, the vast majority of us need between 7-9 hours to wake up feeling refreshed. Alcohol is a known sleep disruptor, so if you struggle with getting good kip, it’s useful to think about reducing your intake. [link to previous blog post]
Water helps the body to produce lymph, which carries white blood and other immune cells. Aim to drink 6 to 7 glasses of water a day. Remember that coffee, tea and alcohol can also be dehydrating, so you’ll need to drink more water to compensate.
Get regular exercise
When we work out moderately, immune cells circulate through our system and are better able to kill viruses and bacteria. People who exercise consistently may also be less likely to get sick. It’s also true that overtraining can make you feel run down and more susceptible to getting sick, so it’s important to take rest days for your body to recover after exercise.
If you’re not a keen exerciser or you struggle with finding the time, that’s okay! Everyone can start somewhere. Try a brisk walk around the block one day, and slowly increase how much you walk each day. Or if time is an issue, try taking 5 minute movement breaks.
Every little helps
It can be easy to look at a list and get overwhelmed, so start small and pick one area you want to improve to help your immunity. Just focus on that area and take small, consistent steps towards it.
Now you might be thinking… “Wouldn’t it be easier to just take a supplement?!” Supplementing with nutrients such as vitamin C, D or B6 can be helpful for immune health in some cases*. However, you really can’t out-supplement a poor diet and lifestyle!
If you’re including a variety of veggies, whole grains and healthy fats (think olive oil, fatty fish like salmon and trout, avocados, nuts and seeds) - you should be able to get the majority of what you need from a balanced diet. Unless, of course, you’ve been advised by a medical practitioner to supplement.
If you’d like to talk through concerns around immune health, I offer a free 50 minute consultation online or in person. I’d be happy to hear from you and talk through your goals and concerns.
*Always consult your doctor before starting a new supplement, as they can interact with certain medications and medical conditions. They may also cause side effects in some people.
The information provided in this blog is intended for educational purposes only, and is not designed to diagnose, prevent, or treat any medical condition.