Although spring is around the corner, many people are falling prey to colds and upper respiratory tract infections. What can you do to avoid these seasonal illnesses? The best defense is keeping your body strong and healthy with a top-notch immune system.
One of the first and crucial steps is getting enough high-quality sleep. We tend to expect our bodies to do all they do in a day without getting adequate time to recover. Lack of sleep is a sure way to invite the latest germ to step in.
Quality sleep includes not only the length of time you are dreaming away, but how deeply you sleep. Caffeine and alcohol can both interfere with quality sleep, even if they are consumed hours before bedtime. Try not to consume caffeine after about mid-afternoon.
Stress can also steal away precious sleep time. Practice relaxing activities an hour or so before bedtime. It is not the time to do intense exercise, read an emotionally stimulating novel, or watch an action-packed or disturbing TV show or movie. Soft music and maybe a warm bath or shower can help calm you down after a busy day.
Stress is also a direct contributor to a weak immune system. Look at your day and how you can reduce stress. This could mean delegating responsibilities to others, taking on fewer commitments, becoming more organized, or letting go of the little stressors of the day. Find ways to relax more often. Regular exercise is a great stress buster.
Plan each day to do something special for yourself — a “self-nurturing” activity. This is anything that can make you feel like you are on a mini-vacation — like reading a fun magazine or a good book, taking a walk in the sunshine, doing yoga, planning your next vacation, taking a bubble bath. Getting a massage is a real treat for relaxation and self-nurturing.
Getting adequate fluids throughout the day is very important for fending off the latest flu bug. Our bodies have mucous secretions in the mouth, nasal cavity, eyes, throat, lungs, and intestinal tract that are part of the body’s defense system. When these are dry, they are more likely to let invaders in.
Shoot for at least 64 ounces of fluid a day, more if you are exercising. Do not wait until you are thirsty, as by this time you are already somewhat dehydrated. Drink adequate fluids with any medications or supplements so they are better absorbed.
Another immune system booster is a healthy intestinal tract. The “good bacteria” that hold residence there can assist you in keeping the “bad bugs” at bay. To expand this army, you can consume active cultures (as in yogurt or other fermented foods), or probiotic supplements. You can also change your diet by limiting sweets, fats, refined grain foods, and high amounts of animal proteins, while increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds. These latter healthy foods promote the beneficial bacteria. Studies on children showed that the addition of active cultures reduced their risk of upper respiratory tract infections.
The helpful foods noted above also contain nutrients, such as antioxidants, that protect your body directly. In addition, they contain numerous other vitamins and minerals that are part of a healthy immune system. Make sure that at least half of your dinner plate is vegetables. Use fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds as snacks. The more variety in your diet, the more likely you are to be getting the many nutrients needed for health.
Adequate but not excessive protein is important for optimal immune system function. Choose fish, lean meat/poultry, low fat dairy products, eggs, beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and seeds. Unfortunately, many older adults do not get enough protein or fluids, and because of aging, may be more at risk of having a compromised immune system.
Look at the pattern of your eating throughout the day. A great plan is to eat three meals with healthy snacks between. This gives your body consistent fuel to do its job. It also provides more opportunity to get in all the foods needed in a day.
Supplements can be helpful as a addition to a healthy diet — not to replace it. Look for a multiple vitamin that has about 100 percent DV of most nutrients. Taking megavitamins with large amounts of some vitamins and minerals can actually create imbalances and do more harm, than good. Vitamin D is a hot topic at the moment and among other benefits, may be related to our body’s defense system as well.
Besides helping with stress, regular exercise can keep the body strong and healthy. The recommendation is to get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise most days and to add activities to maintain or increase muscle 2-3 times a week.
Now step back and take a look at what actions you may want to take to improve your immune system. Make a list and decide where you want to start. Pick out one or two goals and make them a priority this week. Then work your way down the list.
Enjoy good health!