By Laurel-Lea Shannon
With numerous nasty cold and flu bugs flying around during the winter months, washing your hands frequently may not be enough to stay healthy. To outfox viruses you’ve got to keep one step ahead of them by keeping your immune system humming. Here’s how:
1. Exercise but don’t overtrain: Your body is under more stress in the winter months. Depending upon where you live, it’s cold and often wet (with rain or snow) from November until April. Because you can’t exercise outside as much as you do in the summer, it can be tempting to overdo it at the gym or in spinning classes. But intense exercise temporarily lowers your immunity, leaving you vulnerable to viruses. It’s important to listen carefully to your body. Don’t push yourself if you’re tired.
2. Drink plenty of fluids: While most of us drink plenty of fluids in the hot summer months, it’s easy to forget that we still need to hydrate fully in the winter. It’s cold outside and the air is dry, which is dehydrating, so drink those beverages. Hot herbal teas are a good choice in the winter, and soups and stews. Avoid sugar-laden juices. If you drink juice, dilute it with good quality drinking water.
3. Eat plenty of fruit and fresh vegetables: Always choose the bulk of your diet from non-processed foods—even your snacks. Fresh fruit and vegetables are packed with nutrients that your body needs for optimum energy and immunity. Eat leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower), and sweet potatoes and squash (which are high in beta carotene).
4. Sip a little elderberry extract: Is elderberry juice the new echinacea? Could be. Whatever your favourite immune booster is, make sure you use it at the first sign of a cold or flu. This will often prevent illness or reduce its severity and length.
5. Add garlic and onions to soups and stews: Onions and garlic have many natural antimicrobial properties that help fight viruses to keep you healthy. Fortunately, they taste good too. Garlic is especially versatile and can be eaten raw or cooked. Add it to a wide variety of foods: salad dressing, avocado dips, carrot juice, soups, and stews. You can roast it or even boil it and mash it with potatoes.
6. Chill, baby: Stress depletes you both physically and emotionally. Find ways to destress. Yoga is an excellent way to do that. Or take up mindfulness meditation. Did you know that deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, reducing cortisol levels to induce a relaxed state? Try it now. Breathe slowly and deeply into your belly, pause, then slowly breathe out. Try this five times and notice how you feel. Mellow, eh?
7. Take the sunshine vitamin D3: Unless you live in Florida or California, chances are you don’t get enough vitamin D in the winter months. Consider supplementing with D3 to optimize your immunity. Talk to a healthcare professional to determine how much D3 you need.
8. Lose the sugar: Sugar (refined and unrefined) is known to suppress your immunity within hours of eating it. Limit sweets and desserts, and don’t eat too many products made with white flour and processed grains — the body breaks these down quickly into sugar.
9. Get plenty of shut-eye: Don’t skimp on the shut-eye. Sleep restores and heals the body and the mind. Aim for seven or eight hours each night. If you suffer from insomnia during the winter months, you can help yourself by making sure you get outside for at least 20 minutes a day, reduce your caffeine intake and establish regular hours— going to bed and getting up at the same time every day.
10. Laugh — a lot!