It is that wonderful time of year again, when everyone around you seems to be coming down with a cold or flu and you feel that it is inevitable that you will be hit with one too. You have done all you can in terms of getting vaccinated, keeping your distance from sick people and washing your hands when you can, but you wonder, is there anything else you can do to avoid getting sick? Or, at the very least, minimise the symptoms if you do?
The simple answer is yes. In fact, there are a fair few things you can do.
Starting off with exercise. A regular exercise regime not only helps you to look and feel great, but it also helps to strengthen your immune system. When we exercise, our levels of cortisol are elevated, which in short bursts, allows our body to adapt and get better at dealing with stress. This in turn helps to strengthen our immune system response and it boosts circulation, which helps to transport antibodies and white blood cells around the body and fight off infections faster.
A caveat to this is that if you exercise for too long and at too high of an intensity, you can weaken your immune system. It is a known fact that ultra distance marathon runners are more prone to getting sick due to the prolonged, high levels of stress they put their bodies through. When sick, some exercise (like walking, yoga, light intensity resistance training etc.) can be beneficial for reducing symptoms of a cold and flu. Exercising too hard or for too long however, will do the opposite, and potentially prolong how long you must fight the disease for.
Also, getting outside when you can allows you to absorb some much needed vitamin D from the sun. Vitamin D helps boost many functions in the body, including the efficiency and strength of our immune system.
The next thing is sleep and rest. Sleep is vitally important for us at all points in our life. When we sleep, our body dedicates its resources to regrowing and repairing itself. This includes fighting off and destroying diseases.
If you are sick, it is not a time to skip out on shut eye. If you can, allow yourself more time to rest and sleep. Your body will thank you for it and you’ll have a much better chance of fighting off a cold/flu faster and lessening the severity of the symptoms.
When it comes to fending off sickness, what we eat truly makes a difference. High amounts of refined carbs and sugar tend to encourage inflammation in the body, which makes it harder to fight off disease. By limiting refined carbs and sugar and instead eating foods high in fibre and other key nutrients, we can limit unnecessary inflammation and give the body the energy it needs to protect and repair itself. Some of the vitamins and minerals that encourage optimal immune system function are:
- Vitamin C. This is well known for its immune boosting effects and can be found in foods such as oranges, kiwi fruit, guavas, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms and supplements like spirulina.
- Vitamin E. This vitamin had powerful antioxidant properties that work to stop the spread of disease cells in the body. In can be found in peanuts, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts.
- Vitamin D. This vitamin helps to preserve the structural integrity of cells, essentially creating and repairing the barrier between our body and disease cells. Major sources of Vitamin D come from eating oily fish and absorption through the skin when exposed to ultraviolet light.
- Zinc. This mineral helps with the creation of new immune cells and helps to regulate immune system function. Red meat and shellfish are good natural sources.
- Magnesium. This mineral acts a key source of energy for all cells in the body and it helps to strengthen our immune cells. It can be found in foods such as dark chocolate, avocados and whole grains.
- Quercitin. This is a powerful bioflavonoid or antioxidant that inhibits many viruses and protects the tissue in the lungs. It can be found in many natural sources such as leafy green vegetables, apples, grapes, green and black tea and oregano.
- Herbs such as garlic, ginger and cumin. These herbs have documented anti-viral and immune boosting effects and contribute to a better gut microbiome.
Many, if not all these vitamins and minerals can also be taken in supplement form.
Unfortunately, sickness is a part of life and at certain times of the year the common cold and flu run rampart through the population. By engaging in regular exercise that does not over tax our body and immune system, getting enough sleep to allow for healing and repair and eating a wide range of fruit, vegetables, nuts and protein sources (and avoiding refined carbs and sugar) that are rich in key vitamins and minerals, we can put ourselves in the best position to reduce the severity of a cold/flu, if not avoid succumbing to it entirely.
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