Winter can be a tough time for your immune health. The combination of colder temperatures and dryer air can help to foster illness, especially colds and flu.
The holiday season can put additional stress on your immune system thanks to the pressures of holiday shopping, decorating, parties, travel, and less than healthy food (and drinks). Being aware of the possible risks associated with winter can help you take action to keep your immune system on track. But first, let’s take a look at two different types of immunity.
Innate vs. Adaptive Immunity
Did you know that you’re exposed to an array of potentially harmful microbes every single day? Your immune system protects against these harmful microbes as well as certain diseases. A healthy immune system recognizes foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, and parasites and springs into action to keep you well. Accomplishing this critical task involves two different types of immunity—innate immunity and adaptive immunity.
Innate immunity is the immunity you’re born with and it acts as a first-line defense against pathogens through protective barriers like the skin, mucus, and stomach acid. Adaptive immunity, on the other hand, is the immunity you develop as your immune cells learn to recognize various pathogens. When a bacteria or virus sidesteps your innate immunity and enters the body, your adaptive immune system sends out warrior immune cells to vanquish the potentially harmful pathogens. It then creates antibodies to protect against a future exposure to the same pathogen.
6 Ways to Support a Strong Immune System
Without further ado, here are a few of our top tips to keep your immune system healthy this holiday season and beyond!
Get plenty of rest. Sleep restores and heals the body. Without sleep, your immune system wouldn’t have the strength it needs to fight off illness. Incorporate relaxation and breathing techniques throughout the day to soothe stress and help your mind and body rest deeply at night. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol late in the day as they can disrupt sleep quality. It’s also smart to avoid snacking on sugary or ultra-processed foods since they can also keep you up at night. Keeping your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet sets the stage for a healthy night’s sleep. Removing distractions like cell phones can also help. Bottom line? Adopting a sleep schedule that prioritizes getting seven to nine hours of quality shut-eye each night can give your body the time it needs to rest and repair. And if you ever feel like your energy is waning in the afternoon, take a brief 20-minute power nap if possible.
Eat healthy foods. Maintaining a healthy diet helps keep the immune system balanced and ready to fight off harmful pathogens. Although your immune system requires a healthy balance of whole foods, there are two nutrients that should be a top priority your everyday eating pattern.
Protein is the building block of immune cells. Most adults need at least 50 grams of high-quality protein per day. If you eat three meals a day, that comes out to about one palm-sized portion of protein per meal. This could look like eggs for breakfast, turkey chili for lunch, and salmon for dinner.
Antioxidants are also critical, so fill your plate with some colorful fruits and veggies. A general rule of thumb is that the more colorful the food, the healthier it is. Deep, rich colors indicate micronutrients and antioxidants, which your body uses for protection against and recovery from illness.
Get moving. There are many benefits to exercise, including the prevention of arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. Exercise has also been shown to enhance and improve different components of the immune system. It also improves your sleep quality and decreases stress, which supports immune function. Go for a walk or join a gym and commit to an exercise routine. As a bonus, exercise can double as a mood booster. Aim to get in some form of movement 30 minutes per day. Just avoid overexerting yourself since pushing too hard can lower your immune defenses.
Another tip? Be sure to shower after your workout. In addition to smelling bad, the perspiration left on your skin allows bacteria to grow. Breakouts aren’t the worst of it. Sweat breeds fungi and yeasts that can cause infections.
Stress management. Reducing your stress level can improve your body’s immune response. On the flip side, unresolved stress causes higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and that can trigger inflammation. What’s more, people who are stressed are more likely to shortchange the amount of sleep they are getting, forego exercise, and reach for unhealthy foods. If you don’t have time to engage in meditation or a yoga class, the simple act of slow, controlled breathing from the diaphragm is a stress-busting activity that you can do anywhere.
Think positive. Your mental state really can influence your physical health. Experts at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that positive thinkers were less likely than negative people to suffer a heart attack, even if they had risk factors like high cholesterol or a family history of arterial disease.1 So think good thoughts, savor the things you truly enjoy, and try not to dwell on the negative.
Try a new supplement. In addition to these immune-boosting tips, we also encourage you check out a few immune-enhancing supplements. For example, a vitamin C supplement, combined with a daily probiotic and a nutritious powdered green drink mix can help to stop any would-be infection in its tracks. For even more protection, add in a supplement containing Aged Garlic Extract (AGE). Research conducted at the University of Florida found that AGE increases the number of immune cells. If you do catch a cold or the flu, the study also suggested that supplementation could reduce the duration of the common cold or bout with the flu by as much as 61 percent and decrease symptoms by 21 percent.2
Your health is one of the most valuable things you have, if not the most important. The habits you practice today can support your immunity during those times you’re at risk. Plus, adopting a healthy lifestyle can also foster a happier, healthier life.
- The power of positive thinking. Johns Hopkins Medicine. n.d. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-power-of-positive-thinking
- Nantz MP, Rowe CA, Muller CE, et al. Supplementation with aged garlic extract improves both NK and γδ-T cell function and reduces the severity of cold and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutrition intervention. Clin Nutr. 2012 Jun;31(3):337-44. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2011.11.019. Epub 2012 Jan 24. PMID: 22280901.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.