As the “winter” season has commenced, so it becomes the “flu” season as well. My first 6 years as a Physician Assistant, I was asked the same questions during this time of the year, “Why do I keep getting sick?” and “How can I improve my immune system?” At first, I could not answer their questions. The protocols learned in PA school were not taught how to prevent illness from occurring but how to treat the illness once it was present. Through my passion of nutrition, fitness, health, and learning about Functional Medicine, I realized the answers were simple.
Every year, as the end of the year holidays approach, we tend to become more busy and stressed. We also start eating more holiday foods which are full of processed fat, sugar, and ingredients. We may not exercise as often as we should because we are going from one event to the next. Some of us may indulge more in holiday beverages as well, instead of continuing to hydrate with water. College students have exams and finals, so they are stressed out. Adults have deadlines and to do lists to get done in preparation for the holidays. Because of the stress and busy schedules, some will not sleep as well or get as much sleep. All of these factors, affect our immune system! Here are five ways to boost your immune system:
Our bodies are mostly comprised of water and we lose water every day through our breath, when we sweat, or excrete wastes. So we should be drinking at least half our body weight in ounces daily. (Ex. If you are 120 lbs, you should be drinking 60 ounces which is about 7.5 cups) Unfortunately, most of us are not getting in the amount of water our bodies need because we’re drinking holiday beverages such as pumpkin spiced lattes, egg nog, hot chocolate, apple cider vinegar, holiday themed alcoholic beverages, etc. Although they are enjoyable, these beverages are unfortunately packed with sugar and calories which contributes to the holiday weight gain. Water does not have any sugar or calories, so drink up!
2. EAT WHOLE FOODS
Just like we are indulging in holiday beverages, we are also indulging in holiday foods and treats. These foods also are high in calories from processed sugar, fat, and other processed ingredients. They do not contain any vital nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, or antioxidants, all which support our immune system! So focus on adding a variety of colorful foods to your plate. I always recommend to eat at least one color of the rainbow every day. Also consuming more green foods helps the body to become more alkaline. If we consume foods that are acidic such as meat, dairy, refined carbs, fats, and sugars, our bodies will have more inflammation. Eating more colors and more green foods will help our bodies become more alkaline, thus reducing inflammation and improving our immune system. #eattherainbow
Moving your body is just as important during this time of the year. Being active or exercising helps lower inflammation, lower blood glucose, burn calories, improve blood flow to our muscles and brain, improve mood and cognitive function, reduces blood pressure and heart rate, and lowers cholesterol. You don’t have to do anything strenuous or start a vigorous exercise program. Instead of constantly sitting, get up every 10-15 minutes and do body weight movements such as lunges, squats, and stretches. If you exercise, aim for light to moderate exercise because if you are too stressed, high intensity exercise can increase inflammation and cortisol in the body. Some examples of light to moderate activities are 20-30 minutes of power walking, bike riding, swimming, a light jog, lifting light weights, tai chi, yoga, or dancing. So get your body moving!
Yes, rest! Make sure you are getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep. When we are getting quality and enough sleep, our bodies are able to heal themselves. We have a cleaning system in our brain that gets rid of cellular debris while we sleep, called the glymphatic system. If we do not get enough quality sleep, our bodies cannot get rid of the wastes which can also affect our immune system. Take an hour before bed to do something relaxing such as listen to music, meditate, pray, or read a book. Do not look at a tv or computer screen because the bright light sends signals to the brain to keep you awake. If you have a lot of “to do’s” on your mind, write them down so you can empty your brain and knock them out the next day. Also make sure to eat 3-4 hours before you go to bed so your stomach is resting too!
5. REDUCE STRESS
Last but not least, be sure you are checking in with your self and reducing stress. Stress a huge contributor to reducing the function of our immune system. When our bodies are in constant “flight or fight” mode from stress, this increases cortisol in the body which increases inflammation. When our bodies are inflamed, this taxes our immune system because it is constantly fighting. Plan your holiday events so that you have time for yourself to practice self care. Remember, we all have the same amount of time in a day. It all depends on how your prioritize your time to achieve tasks and make time for your self. Some stress reducing activities are yoga, meditation, deep breathing, praying, journaling, listening to music, reading a book, or connecting with nature.
My hope is that you will now have more clarity as to what happens to your immune system during the holidays and to provide you with insight to help you boost your immune system to have a happy, healthy holiday!