It’s that time of year when coughs, colds and sinus problems see thousands of Irish people in pharmacies looking to buy a tablet to make it all go away. Of course, closing our windows and turning up the central heating doesn’t help, as this is the perfect environment for bugs and viruses to multiply. But we need to start looking at prevention, not only treatment, when it comes to our health.
The immune system, which is made up of special cells, proteins, tissues, and organs, defends people against germs and microorganisms every day. In most cases, the immune system does a great job of keeping people healthy and preventing infections. But sometimes problems with the immune system can lead to illness and infection. We know that a poor diet, poor quality or not enough sleep, stress, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle all contribute to poor functioning of the immune system and a higher likelihood of catching a cold or virus. But not to worry because there is something we can do about it!
Tick This List – 10 Healthy Lifestyle Habits
So if our first line of defense should be a healthy lifestyle, where do we begin? We know that every part of our bodies, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies. For instance, one of these is regular exercise. We know that exercise stimulates the immune cells that fight disease (antibodies and white blood cells) so they can act more quickly.
Here’s 9 other strategies for you to consider:
- Not smoking (download our free stop smoking guide.)
- Eating a diet high vegetables (and fruits)
- Reducing sugar
- Avoiding alcohol, or drinking only in moderation.
- Getting enough sleep (7-9 hours)
- Washing your hands
- Minimising stress (read our blog ‘5 Ways to Beat Stress’ here.)
- Connect with people (see more below)
- Meditate (see more below)
The Research on Preventing Bugs
Viruses can live for up to three days on objects like handrails and coffee cups so wash your hands regularly to keep bugs at bay, particularly after using the bathroom or before cooking (and remind your children to do the same). Also, if you are prone to infections, clearing out sinuses with a saline wash or spray has been proven to reduce the incidence of sinus infection and it involves a natural, chemical-free prevention step so it is well worth it. Myself and my son both have asthma and we have noticed a significant reduction in sinus and respiratory infections since starting this every morning and evening.
Interestingly, people who meditate regularly may have healthier immune system responses, some studies show. In one experiment, people who meditated over an 8-week period made more antibodies to a flu vaccine than people who didn’t meditate at all. And they still showed an increased immune system response four months later.
Also, having strong relationships and a good social network is important for a good immune system. Studies show that people who feel connected to friends – whether it’s a few close friends or a large group – have stronger immunity than those who feel alone. In one study, lonely students displayed a weaker immune response to a flu vaccine than those who felt connected to others.
10 Immune-Boosting Foods
Make sure to include these foods regularly in your diet;
- Red peppers
- Greek yoghurt
- Green tea
- Seeds (eg. sunflower or chia)
Are you Eating Enough?
There are four very important vitamins for the optimum working of our immune systems, so have a regular check that you are consuming these.
- Vitamin C: one of the biggest immune system boosters, this vitamin is crucial because the body doesn’t produce or store it. Most people don’t need to take a supplement, however, as it is present in so many foods including oranges, mandarins, strawberries, spinach, kale and broccoli.
- Vitamin B6: vital for supporting biochemical reactions in the immune system, this vitamin can be found in green vegetables, chickpeas, chicken, salmon and tuna.
- Vitamin E: a powerful antioxidant that can help the body to fight infection that is present in nuts, seeds and spinach.
- Vitamin D: Made by our bodies when the sun comes into contact with our skin, this vitamin is also present in salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines. Small amounts are also found in beef, liver, cheese and egg yolks. Many people need to supplement this vitamin, however, as most of us don’t eat enough oily fish (msut be three times a week) in order to impact our vitamin D status. Alternatively (or additionally), fortified products do have their place (Supermilks and cereals fortified with vit D). Read our blog on why it’s time we no longer overlook this crucial vitamin, especially those of us living in Ireland with limited exposure to the sun.
For recipes including many of these foods, go to our recipe section.