It couldn’t be farther from cold and flu season - summer is right around the corner! However, with the prospects of summer colds, seasonal hay fever and allergies, and a global pandemic in place, there’s never a “wrong” time to be aware of how you can best support your immune system.
As Covid-19 continues to have a massive impact on global health, it’s vital to understand now, more than ever, that there are no absolute preventatives (aside from complete self-isolation!), despite some products’ health claims.
This underscores the importance of healthy lifestyle choices including nutritious foods and supportive supplements to help give us our best fighting chance against ailments, year-round. Simple lifestyle choices are an essential part of how we can stay proactive about maintaining our immune defenses and overall health.
Getting enough sleep is crucial for your physical resilience, especially during a stressful time. Have you ever noticed that at the end of an intensive period where you may not have been getting enough sleep, such as a big project at work or a lengthy exam season, you tend to be more susceptible to colds?
Your immune system replenishes your body during sleep with protective proteins that help prevent your susceptibility to infections. We tend to discount the importance of getting the proper amount of sleep if it’s not convenient - like when we’re just two episodes away from finishing that show on Netflix at bedtime - but it’s a big part of keeping our immune system functioning at its best. Try to make sure you’re getting at least 7-8 hours a night.
Getting plenty of regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight can help keep your body’s immune system robust. Some studies show that regular exercise can prevent much of the decline in immunity that typically accompanies aging. That being said, don’t go from 0 to 60 right away! If you’re just beginning a new routine, check in with your doctor first before starting, and be gentle with yourself to prevent strain or injury. Getting your steps in the great outdoors can be especially beneficial for both your body and your mind.
Foods & Beverages
Not only is staying hydrated important to maintaining all of your body’s routine processes, drinking water regularly helps keep mucous membranes in your nose and throat functioning optimally, to protect against infection. As much as we’d love to say otherwise, coffee and black tea aren’t ideal hydration choices; nor are sodas, other sweetened beverages, or alcoholic beverages.
Stick with water (the number one hydration choice) or herbal teas. Fruit juices can have a lot of both natural and added sugars, so if you’re looking for a fruity kick, try infusing herbs and fruit in water instead - lime, mint, and strawberries are great in a pitcher of ice water for hot days!
4. Eating well
As famed nutrition and culture writer Michael Pollan said in his book, In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Including lots of fresh fruits and veggies is a vital aspect of creating a balanced diet, as is getting as many nutrients as possible, including vitamins, from your food. Vitamin C especially, as well as vitamins A and E, are crucial for immune functioning. Some studies suggest that vitamin C may assist in reducing the severity of cold symptoms. Red bell peppers are abundant in both vitamins C and A, and there are many other whole foods such as broccoli, citrus, and almonds which you can incorporate to support your immune health.
5. Green tea
While this is a topic still under study, some studies have shown that there may be even more benefits to drinking green tea than previously thought. Green tea is very high in antioxidants called catechins, which can assist your body in neutralizing free-radicals. Brewed green tea is an excellent option, and matcha, made from finely powdered green tea leaves, makes the benefits of green tea even more bioavailable.
6. Beneficial herbs & mushrooms
There are many folk remedies out there for colds and immune “boosting,” so it’s important to do some research and make sure that what you’re considering taking, has proven efficacy!
Adaptogens have been increasing in popularity in recent years due to their ability to help the body better respond or “adapt” to stressors. Ashwagandha in particular is an adaptogen that has many properties that can benefit your overall health, including your immune system. There is also some evidence that herbal remedies such as echinacea and elderberry may be able to help reduce the severity of cold symptoms. Ideally, taking a supplement that combines several beneficial ingredients together for immune support, will maximize your supplementation efforts.
7. Fermented foods & probiotics
Trust your gut, especially if you have ferments in your diet! There is evidence that a diet rich in probiotics and fermented foods can be beneficial for your immune system. Kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and yogurt all help support the healthy flora in your digestive tract. It can also be worth looking into fermenting vegetables yourself, or brewing your own kombucha at home - you just need tea, sugar, and a little time! You can also supplement with live probiotics if you’re finding it difficult to include fermented foods in your diet.