The winter season can be a hotbed of cold and flu viruses. As the temperatures plummet and days get shorter, many of us have already started preparing for winter illnesses.
But, the good news is that having a strong immune system can help you stay healthy and fight off viruses, which is even more important during the winter months.
The importance of a strong immune system
Our immune systems are incredibly important for fighting off viruses and infections, but they can become weaker with age, and this puts people at a higher risk of developing side effects.
At the moment, the number of COVID-19 cases is still high, and there has been a rise in the number of cold and flu cases due to several years of social isolation.
In a recent article in Nature, scientists found that the current surge of respiratory viruses could be very dangerous for high-risk groups, as the restrictions mean the population “is more immunologically naive than what we would expect in most years”.
Because of this, now is a good time to start looking for ways to support the immune system for extra protection. There are many factors that can contribute to the immune system, but some of the signs that you could do with a boost are:
- Having lots of colds in a short space of time
- Struggling to recover from minor illnesses
- Developing regular infections in the throat, ears, or sinuses
- Suffering from long-term chronic stress
- Always feeling tired or run down
- Persistent tummy troubles like diarrhea or constipation
How to boost your immune system strength
The immune system is designed to protect against illnesses. Although it’s hard to avoid all winter viruses, the good news is, there are some simple ways to boost your immune system and stay healthy throughout the coldest months of the year.
Wash your hands regularly
Regular hand washing is one of the best ways to protect yourself from flu and other viruses, and this is particularly important during the winter months. This simple precaution can prevent you from getting ill and is very easy to include in your daily routine.
Every time you come home, use the bathroom, are preparing food, or are about to eat, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least twenty seconds. Additionally, you should avoid touching your face if you haven’t washed your hands recently.
Get your winter vaccinations
According to the World Health Organization and other health authorities, getting your winter vaccinations is the best way to protect against winter flu and COVID-19.
The WHO says that: Many of those most at risk of severe COVID-19 are also at high risk of experiencing a serious influenza infection. It is important that the following priority groups get vaccinated against both influenza and COVID-19: healthcare workers, people over 60 years old, pregnant women, and those with comorbidities and/or underlying conditions.
At this time of year, there are lots of viruses in circulation, and having more than one at the same time can increase the risk of complications. For people in high-risk groups, like the over 65s, pregnant women, and diabetics, it’s important to get an annual vaccination.
Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet can cut the risk of an array of health conditions and is essential for maintaining a strong immune system. Your bodies need the right amount of nutrients to function properly and for you to feel your best, so you should always aim to eat balanced meals.
Your diet should include plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. Foods that are high in vitamin C and antioxidants also have immune-boosting properties.
To stay healthy, it’s best to limit your intake of processed foods and foods that are high in sugar and fat, as these can damage your immune system and cause inflammation in the body.
Instead, try to eat a mix of colorful fruits and vegetables, focusing on a wide variety of different types of phytochemicals and potent superfoods like blueberries and pomegranates. If you don’t have enough fresh fruit and veg, frozen or tinned options are a great, nutritious alternative.
Take vitamin supplements
The best way to support your natural immunity and get all the essential vitamins and minerals you need is to eat a balanced diet with a variety of friends and vegetables. But, if you don’t manage to do this or have a restricted diet, you can consider a supplement.
Some of the most important vitamins and minerals for your immune system are:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
- Vitamin B12
Drink enough water
As well as eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated can also make a big difference to your overall health, including supporting your immune system and fighting off infections and viruses.
Water has two important functions in the body: carrying oxygen to your cells and flushing bacteria and other toxins away from them.
Even if you’re not exercising, your body is always losing water, and you should make sure your daily fluid intake is at least 8 to 10 glasses daily to replace this. You should also limit alcohol and smoking, as these can dehydrate your body and affect your immunity.
Manage your stress
Studies show that stress can have a huge effect on your immune system and chronic stress can quickly take its toll. So, it’s important to find ways to manage stress, like meditation, breathing exercises, art, sports, socializing and spending time with family and friends, and other methods.
A relaxing massage can also be a great option, as massages are believed to stimulate the lymphatic system, the defense force of our body. Plus, they help to reduce stress levels.
Get enough exercise
Exercise has many health benefits, including preventing illnesses and making it easier to lose weight, and relieving some symptoms of depression and anxiety. It’s also fantastic for supporting your immune system, even if it’s just 30 minutes a day.
Daily moderate exercise, like walking, swimming, jogging, team sports, yoga, or hiking can boost your circulation, and this makes it easier for your immune system cells to function.
Get plenty of sleep
Research shows that sleep deprivation is linked to negative health outcomes. Sleep is when our bodies rest and recover. It’s also when the cells that fight infections are created. This means that it’s important to get plenty of sleep each night to stay healthy.
People that don’t get enough quality sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to viruses, and it tends to take them longer to recover.
If you’re not getting at least 8 hours of quality sleep each night, it’s time to change your routine to get a better night’s sleep and allow your immune system to get stronger.