Written by: Jo Kelly, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
It can feel like coughs and colds are everywhere in the winter months. So how do you best protect yourself from picking up every bug going? Here are my top 5 tips for keeping your immune system in check!
But first things first, why should you boost your immune system? Well actually, you shouldn’t! Boosting our immune system may make it go into overdrive, and may cause significant side effects. So what we should be doing is looking to SUPPORT our immune system. But how?
1. Look after your guts
70-80% of your immune cells are found in the guts. ¹ Which makes it so important to look after your gut health. There are approximately 100 trillion bacteria in the digestive system, ² known as the gut microbiota. These bacteria all need feeding, and what they love is plant-based foods. The key here is variety, so aim for 30 different plant-based foods each week. This can include fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, herbs and spices. Easy ways to up your diversity
add a handful of mixed seeds to your breakfast or salad
have an extra portion of vegetables with each meal
snack on mixed nuts instead of one type of nut
add extra herbs and spices to your meals. You’ll be up to your 30 before you know it!
Sleep quality and quantity can affect your immune system. Research shows that insufficient sleep can increase your chances of catching a common cold or flu. ³ So how do you get a good night's sleep?
It starts in the morning. Get some light exposure first thing in the morning, ideally sunlight.
Avoid caffeine after 2 pm.
Reduce blue light exposure in the evening. This comes from screens and electronic devices. Ideally, stop using screens 2 hours before you go to bed.
Have a good bedtime routine. This gives your body a signal that it’s time to sleep.
Have a regular bedtime and wake time, even at weekends.
Avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol at night can have a negative impact on sleep.
Ensure you have a relaxing comfortable bedroom environment. Keep it dark, quiet and cool.
Aim to finish your last meal 4 hours before you go to bed.
3. Get outside
A large study ⁴ found that at least 120 minutes per week in nature can significantly boost health. Getting outside can help lower infection rates in the gut, lungs and urinary tract. It can also reduce unwanted inflammation. Getting outside in nature is also great for mental well-being, so what are you waiting for? Get your shoes on and go out for a walk!
Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicles in your body. Free radicles are compounds that can be harmful if their levels become too high, and are linked to multiple illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. ⁵ Antioxidants are found in plenty of foods such as:
Nuts and seeds
Green leafy vegetables
So lots to choose from! Make sure you get plenty of variety for the best immune system support.
Studies have shown that stress can produce an inflammatory response, and when this response is persistent, it can contribute to chronic disease. ⁶ Chronic stress can also produce higher than normal levels of cortisol in the body, which can hinder the body’s anti-inflammatory response and increase the risk of infection. So what stress reduction tactics can be put in place?
Exercise - any exercise that works for you can help reduce stress. The key is doing what you enjoy. If you hate running, don’t go for a run! If you love walking, do that instead. It all counts.
Connect with others - you may feel like isolating yourself when stressed, but reaching out and connecting with others can help relieve your stresses.
Laugh - laughter causes positive physical changes in your body, which can help to relieve stress. So get your favourite comedian on and laugh away!
Do what you love - doing whatever makes you happy can help relieve stress, whatever that may be. Make time for yourself, and embrace what makes you feel good.
Seek support - If self-care measures aren’t relieving your stress, professional support can help you identify your causes of stress, and support with tools to help you cope with it.
Jo Kelly, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Jo Kelly is a registered Nutritional Therapist, who specialises in supporting people with auto-immune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus to name just a few. She uses nutrition and lifestyle recommendations to help her clients with their condition and feel the best version of themselves. Jo studied at the world renowned Institute for Optimum Nutrition, and is pleased to have helped hundreds of people since launching Flourish with Nutrition. As a huge foodie herself, Jo appreciates all too well that food must be enjoyable. Therefore, Jo endeavours to ensure clients have fun with their food, and works closely with them to make personalised recommendations that work, and are sustainable.
(2) https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/can-gut-bacteria-improve-your-health (3)https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/10.1164/rccm.201411-2099CI
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