Running nose, body aches, coughing until your ribs hurt, swallowing feels like sandpaper. Sound familiar? According to the Globe and Mail, Canadians spends over $6-billion a year in expenses related to the common cold. From bottles of cough medication to missed time at work, getting sick is expensive. I know I can think of many other ways to spend 6 billion.
Its without doubt that unless you live in a bubble you are going to be exposed to germs and viruses. But have you ever noticed that some people pick up every little bug going around while others never have to reach for a tissue?
I believe the state of our immune system will act as a guard against these airborne illnesses. What we feed ourselves, how we manage stress, our sleep habits either work in favor of our health or against it. The great news about that, is we have more control of our immune health than you may think.
Here are my 8 tips to support your immune system and let this season be flu free!
Raw garlic is a powerful immune supporter. You may have heard this from Grandma over the years and she was right. My grandma said it would also put hair on your chest. Thank goodness she was wrong about that one. But for immune health, garlic is a powerhouse. Raw garlic has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties. It acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and contains antioxidants. Garlic contains loads of vitamins including Vit. C, and B vitamins. Eating garlic daily can help fend off more than just vampires. It will keep the sniffles at bay. To obtain the medicinal benefits however, the garlic must be consumed raw. When it is cooked, it loses many of its nutrients. You will definitely have garlic breath but its better than being rundown with a cold. I eat raw garlic almost daily. I often joke that its the reason I was almost 40 by the time I got married. Te Hee!
Avoid Processed foods
This is something that I talk about a lot with all my nutrition clients. It is impossible to gain the maximum amount of nutrients our bodies need when we rely on convenience foods. Processed in factories, packaged in boxes, loaded with preservatives and who knows what else. These products are designed for profit, not your health. Many restaurant foods fall into the same category. We don’t know how it is being prepared, where they source their food or how long its been sitting in the back. Putting myself through school I worked in the restaurant industry and trust me, there is not much healthy going on there. Unless you are going to a restaurant where you know it the foods are local and prepared fresh, you may be putting yourself at risk. Getting into the habit of preparing your own meals, packing your lunches, and hosting dinner party’s vs going out is a direct route to take control of your health and support your immune system. It takes some planning, maybe a bit of skill but it is so worth it. This coming from someone who used to think a microwave dinner was home cooking. It took some time but now each week I and excited to prepare a new recipe to have whole foods meals for the week ahead.
That title got your attention! Over the past 10 years anti-bacterial stuff is all the craze. Get it for your hands, your soaps, in travel size, mount a dispenser on your wall. I just don’t buy into it. You may say I’m anti-anti-bacterial. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in filth. The house is clean, and I wash my hands and produce before cooking but I don’t get obsessive about it. A little dirt now and again is good for ya. Exposure to some bacteria can actually be good for you. Let’s put this into perspective. Our bodies contain trillions of bacteria cells. They make up about 1-3% of our body’s mass and they play a vital role in our health. We need a diverse bio dome of bacteria to be effective in supporting out immune system. Gut microbiota helps to metabolize certain nutrients making them absorb-able by the body, protects against infections, reduces inflammation, and may be the key to prevent or treat some diseases. Gut bacteria is immensely complex. Determining the exact strain to specifically support our heath is like trying to find a needle in a haystack 10 stories high. Maintaining a well populated gut microbiota is the best way to support your system. Eating fermented foods and foods high in fiber encourage a diverse ecosystem. Overuse of antibiotics will destroy the gut bacteria and overtime impair your immune system making you more susceptible to illnesses. There is a time and a place for them but opting for an antibiotic for every little thing can do more harm than good in the long run. Also, to my last point, a diet dominant in processed or sugary foods feeds the negative bacteria and further impairs your ability to avoid colds and flues. So, pass on the can of coke and opt for a Kombucha instead. Get those fermented little friends into you!
Sweating regularly is an effective way to remove toxins from the body. Physical activity will help flush negative bacteria out of the lungs and airways. Exercise also causes changes in antibodies and white blood cells. White Blood Cells are the body’s immune system cells that fight disease. Raising your body temperature through exercise will prevent the harmful bacteria from growing. This temperature change may help the body fight infection better (similar to what happens when you have a fever). Regular exercise also helps to calm the body from the effects of stress including the release of the cortisol. A less stressed body is a healthy body and exercise is a great stress reliever. And that brings me to my next point…
I know what you’re thinking, easier said than done. There are things to do, people to see, bills to pay. I get it. We are all busy. But in all seriousness, we should never be too busy for our health. When we are running at full tilt all the time, our body’s do not have the opportunity to restore and recover from the demands we put on it. Eventually this catches up. Its like running your car and you keep putting off going for an oil change. Your just too busy to stop for that 10-minute maintenance and eventually the engine blows. Well that’s your body. Having opportunity to create calmness in your life is your maintenance plan for your health. This can be done in many ways. Maybe its laughter you need to escape the everyday chaos. A light-hearted movie or a comedy act. Get those endorphins flowing with a deep belly laugh. For others it may be social connection that fills your cup. Plan a date with your significant other or friends, deep conversation and a solid hug. Then there is the introvert where time spent solo is exactly what you need to reset. A walk in the woods, an evening with no plans, quiet and calm. Whatever you connect with that helps you exhale and allow the tension of life to be released, do that and do it regularity. I like a combination of it all. Starting my days with a 10-minute meditation while my coffee brews, a walk mid-day in the forest with the dog, and opportunities for social time on the weekends. That keeps me balanced for the most part. When life feels like it’s a bit too much, I’ll sometimes hibernate as the true introvert I know I am. But the key is having built in stress management plan. It must be a proactive approach to be effective. Waiting until you are stressed to the max then attempting to undo the effects will be daunting and ineffective. Again, its like the car and the oil change. Once the motor blows, it can still be fixed but it’s going to take much more effort and time to get it running again.
The importance of sleep should never be overlooked especially when it comes to supporting your health. It is the opportunity for our bodies to heal and recover. Without good sleep, we are running on empty. Our body is not equipped with all the tools necessary to be able to fight off disease. Lack of sleep has been linked to increased risk of many health issues including heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancers. And I was just focusing on the common cold here. Getting onto a consistent sleep schedule can be a useful tool toward preventing getting sick. Lights out at 10pm. Make it a non-negotiable. Give your body the opportunity to restore itself. This is something I fought for years. For some dumb reason staying up late was exciting. But really for what? Another episode of some brain rotting TV show? Read another chapter? Do a little more work? It will still be there tomorrow. Instead hit the hay and wake with full energy for the day and more ability to avoid that cold rotating around the office.
Drinking water can act as a natural immune booster. Water helps carry oxygen to cells to help all your bodily organs and systems function properly. It also works to remove toxins from the body. Drinking more water could help prevent toxins from building up in the body that would otherwise affect your health. Add in some lemon and now you are getting in a dose of Vit. C. Warm it up and drink organic teas that offer antioxidant benefits. I am constantly drinking teas in the winter months. Partly because Canadian winters are freezing but it is a warming way to get my hydration. Somehow a glass of ice water is not appealing in -20 weather. Not a fan of drinking water? Eat water rich fruits and vegetables. Cucumber, celery, strawberries, cantaloupe are all great sources of H2O and loaded with nutrients. Its win win! However you like it, get it in. All our bodies processes rely on water. Without it, we are not able to function at our best and that includes supporting our immune health.
Canadian winters are cold. Its not my favorite season. Its easy to hide indoors for months to escape the bitter cold. Windows closed, heat cranked up and wait it out till spring. AS tempting as it may sound, hibernation mode may not be the best tactic for avoiding illness. Confined indoors with no fresh air circulation, mat keep you surrounded by germs and airborne illnesses. Close quarters in an office environment breathing recycled air from your coworkers who may be coughing and sneezing, your bound to catch something. Get outdoors for even a few moments. A boost of energizing oxygen, a dose of vitamin D and a little bit of blood flow to keep your body healthy. I crave the outdoors. It may sound weird, I know. Some people crave chocolate, I crave trees. Its such a simple thing, fresh air, but it’s so necessary for our health. We are lucky enough that its available to us 24/7. Get out, breath it in. All that fresh 02 is nourishing for your body. A short walk at your lunch break, a winter hike, or dust off your skates and hit the ice. Bundle up and get out to enjoy it.
Incorporating these habits as part of your everyday will set you up for a stronger immune health. It may not all happen at once. It took me time to transform my lifestyle. As a kid we didn’t have much. I grew up on Kraft dinner and white bread with sugar as a treat. I also was always sick. While my friends were out playing, I was in a hospital bed. I did not always have a strong immune system. As I got older and learned how to take care of myself, I am very rarely burdened with illnesses which leaves more time to enjoy the things and the people I love.
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