With the kids back in school and the winter months fast approaching, it is time to take a look at ways to boost immune health and decrease the risk of illness during cold and flu season. Here are 8 helpful tips to help keep the whole family healthy and happy.
1. Get Some Exercise
Exercise increases the production of white blood cells, which are very important in helping the body defend against infection. Increasing activity levels will increase T cells in the body and make natural killer cells more efficient. Exercise also promotes lower levels of cytokines that cause inflammation in the body (1)
Other great benefits of exercise include the improvement of overall fitness, an increase in mood and energy, a reduction in stress, and improvement of blood circulation, which allows nutrients to be carried to the places your body needs them most.
How Much?? As little as 20 minutes of moderate exercise per day can reduce cytokine production (2)
What should I do?? Walking, hiking, yoga, zumba, and playing Frisbee are great options. Find an activity you enjoy!
2. Get More Sunshine
Sunshine helps the body produce vitamin D3. Vitamin D plays a significant role in activating our immune cells, which help fight against infection and foreign invaders in the body (3). Studies show that people with reduced levels of vitamin D are at an increased risk for developing colds and upper respiratory tract infections (4). A healthy amount of vitamin D3 can also help reduce the risk of getting the flu (5). So, enjoy the sun and enjoy a healthier you! Getting out in the fresh air may even inspire some fun outdoor activities and exercise.
Depending on where you live, you may not be able to synthesize enough vitamin D during the winter months from sun exposure alone. You may need to increase vitamin D through diet and extra supplementation. Some foods high in vitamin D include (6):
3. Reduce Sugar Intake
Substitute processed, sugary, and carbohydrate-rich foods for fruits, veggies, and healthy fats, such as omega-3. Foods that are high in sugar, carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats (trans-fats) cause inflammation in the body (7). When the body is fighting against the foods we are putting into it, it has less resources to fight off infection and any illness we may be exposed to. Eating nutritious foods helps keep the body strong and able to defend against invaders.
Always check nutrition labels when eating packaged foods to avoid products with added sugars and a high-carbohydrate count. For sugar cravings, try organic almond butter or fat bombs, treats that are high in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates.
Pumpkin Pie Patties Fat Bomb Recipe (8):
Recipe type: Keto, Paleo, Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Sugar-free, Yeast-free, Corn-free, Grain-free, Nut-free, Egg-free, Low-carb
- 200 grams unsweetened long shredded coconut
- ½ cup coconut oil
- ¼ cup grass-fed collagen, optional
- 25 drops alcohol-free stevia extract
- Pinch to ¼ teaspoon Himalayan rock salt
- ¾ cup pumpkin puree, unsweetened
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon alcohol-free pure vanilla extract
- Pinch ground cloves
- Line a baking sheet with two 12-count mini muffin silicon molds. Set aside.
- Add shredded coconut, coconut oil, stevia, and salt to the bowl of your food processor. Process on high for 5-8 minutes until drippy. You may have to remove the lid a couple of times and scrape the chunky bits from the side of the bowl.
- Once smooth, remove ¼ cup of the coconut mixture, leaving the remaining coconut mix in the food processor bowl. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth again. If you use cold pumpkin puree, the coconut will harden. No worries, just process until smooth again.
- The texture of the pumpkin mixture will be similar to apple sauce.
- Divide the pumpkin mixture into the muffin cups. Press down with fingers or the back of a spoon until completely flat. Then, top with reserved white coconut mixture. Transfer baking sheet to the freezer and freeze for 1 hour.
- Serve and enjoy your treat!
4. Drink More Water
Water is necessary to carry out many of our bodily functions. Staying hydrated helps the kidneys flush toxins from the blood and eliminate waste through urination. Water is also used in the production of lymph, which plays a very important role in immune health. Lymph carries white blood cells (the infection fighting cells) throughout the body and to the site of infection. Lymph is a key component in the elimination of toxins from the blood after the white blood cells have destroyed foreign invaders (9).
5. Reduce Stress
High levels of stress can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. Chronic stress causes an increase in the production of a hormone called cortisol. Increased levels of cortisol inhibit the function of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that recognizes foreign/harmful substances in the body and destroys them (10).
- How you can control stress:
- Give yoga and deep breathing exercises a try
- Practice meditation
- Go for a walk
- Find a hobby that is relaxing and enjoyable
6. Try Essential Oils
Essential oils can be beneficial for immune health, and they smell great too! Oils can be diffused or applied directly to the body.
Oils to Try
- Promotes healthy cellular function
- Improves circulation
- Reduces inflammation
- Diffuse to improve immune and respiratory health
- Can be applied on the neck, chest, and soles of the feet
- May also be applied under the arms to support lymph circulation
7. Get More Sleep
Sleep allows the body to rest from daily functions and repair damaged tissues. Both are needed to keep the body functioning at its best. Make sure you and those in your family are getting the right amount of sleep to keep you happy and healthy.
Sleep Recommendations by Age (11)
- Preschoolers (3-5yrs): 10-13hrs
- School-aged children (6-13yrs): 9-11hrs
- Teenagers (14-17yrs): 8-10hrs
- Adults (18-64yrs): 7-9hrs
- Older adults (≥ 65 years): 7-8hrs
Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Rest (12)
- Avoid using electronics 2 hours before bed. The blue light emitted from electronic devices such as computers, cell phones, and TVs decreases melatonin, promoting wakefulness.
- Avoid eating big meals right before bedtime (try to give yourself 3 hours before bedtime after your last meal).
- Keep your room cool, dark, and quiet for optimal sleep.
8. Take Care of Your Gut
The health of our gut plays an important role in the overall health of our body. A large portion of the immune system (60-80%) is found within the gut (13). Good bacteria have several functions in maintaining gut health, such as producing vitamins important for immunity, destroying yeast, fungi, and bad bacteria, and stimulating immune cells (13).
Consider taking probiotic supplements. A quality probiotic can aid in the stimulation of good bacteria growth in the gut, leading to:
- Better energy
- Decreased risk of the cold or flu
- A stronger immune system