We’ve been so focused on surviving a pandemic it’s easy to overlook more run of the mill viral or bacterial infections. But as we come into winter and increasingly mix with others, you might want to show your immune system a bit of love beyond hand-washing and mask-wearing.
Beating those winter bugs
Over the next few months, we will be exposed to increased levels of bacteria and viruses. You will want a strong and robust immune system. The extent to which you suffer will depend on how robust your immune system is. It’s now time to get your body ready, primed for winter – think of it like servicing your car before a long trip.
Why should you start strengthening your immune system for winter?
We spend more time indoors
I know we’ve spent much of 2020 indoors but we were isolating to protect ourselves from a highly contagious and dangerous virus. In Australia, this has served us very well from a health perspective. But now we are going out more, returning to offices and perhaps spending more time travelling in planes or on public transport. As the days shorten, we tend to be in closer contact with people in confined spaces and therefore our exposure to bugs is increased. Whatsmore, due to our isolation in 2020 we may not have been exposed to the usual bugs we contend with so maybe our immune systems are not as “match-fit” as they normally would be coming into winter.
I’m sure you know that sunshine is an excellent source of vitamin D. Winter brings less sunshine and less exposed skin so we get less vitamin D. Among its many roles, vitamin D is vital for a healthy immune function.
In winter it’s not uncommon to become more sedentary, spending more time indoors. The cold weather and shorter days make it harder to find the motivation to be physically active and there is plenty of scientific evidence to show that regular, moderate exercise boosts immunity.
The winter months can be stressful
Compared to the summer months which include numerous holidays and generally have a more relaxed “vibe” the colder, winter months are often more about work and less about fun and rest. Excess or prolonged stress really takes its toll on your immune system making you more vulnerable to infections.
What can you do to look after your immune system?
- Have your Vitamin D levels tested and take a supplement if needed. Most of us benefit from taking at least 1000iu of a good vitamin D supplement (with the co-factors needed for absorption and utilisation of this vitamin) over the winter months but you may need higher doses if your starting levels are low. (Your doctor may not want to order the test but I frequently include it in my screening tests and it is commonly low).
- Vitamins A, C and E along with Zinc and Selenium are all important for good immunity. Make sure you are eating a good healthy diet with a variety of fruit and vegetables or consider an additional supplement over the winter months if your diet is not great or you are prone to infections.
- Your immune system is largely made of protein. Aim to have some with every meal.
- Good quality echinacea has been shown to reduce infection rates when you fly. Consider taking a supplement if you are a frequent traveller.
- Keep up your exercise routine to help stimulate your immunity. Finding an activity that you can do indoors and doesn’t require the hassle of getting somewhere else is a great idea. So many fitness, yoga, pilates studios have kept up their online classes which make them super-convenient.
- Schedule regular “downtime” in your winter calendar to manage your stress levels.
- If your past history shows that you frequently succumb to respiratory infections, make an appointment with me now for a personalised assessment on how to get through the next few months. I’ve had great success in helping my naturopathic clients significantly reduce the number and severity of colds and respiratory infections they experience.
What if you do catch a bug?
If you do get sick, rest is vital – ‘soldiering on’ is not smart in the long run (and hopefully our pandemic experience has broken that habit). You need to allow your immune system to do its job. Also, eat nutritious, simple foods (there is a reason why chicken broths taste good when you are sick). Here are my tips on how to convalesce successfully.
If you want to do more when you are sick, consider making an appointment for a “quick naturopathic consultation” to get your personalised herbal tonic or nutrients. (Remember, antibiotics will only help with bacterial infections and most of the seasonal bugs are viral).