It is that time of year when we all start to be concerned about colds and flu. Some of you will get flu shots and some will not. Either way, we all have a chance of catching a seasonal illness. It would be an understatement to say that our immune system is under constant attack.
For this reason, we need to stop sabotaging our immune response and work on building a stronger foundation for our immune system and the good news is, it only requires basic lifestyle changes.
First, letís take a look at the three big mistakes most of us make during cold and flu season. The three basics to supporting your immune system is nutrition, proper sleep and exercise.
Letís start with nutrition and our need to really work at a balanced diet of whole nutrient-dense foods. When it comes to nutrition, you need to take a simple approach to your macronutrients of carbohydrates, protein and fats. Balancing your macronutrients starts with carbohydrates, sugar and grains. Reduce your daily intake of empty carbs from sugar and grains that create inflammation. When your body is dealing with inflammation from foods, it cannot properly support your immune system. Eating lean protein is an essential building block to your health and contains amino acids that make up important components of your immune system. Getting proper amounts of protein from either animal or plant sources strengthens your defensive antibodies, giving your immune cells better impact to attack viruses and bacteria in your body.
Your digestive tract makes up roughly 70 percent of your immune system. Another way to boost your immune response is by boosting the good bacteria in your gut. Eating cultured foods like kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and kombucha, you can lock and load your gut with an amazing boost against seasonal illnesses.
Another aspect to consider is the misconception around vitamin C to fight off bugs. Vitamin C is important, but it is vitamin D that plays an even more critical roll with your immune system. We live at a latitude that limits our exposure to sunshine that provides large amounts of vitamin D. This means we need to get our vitamin D from foods and supplements. As you would expect, both the young and old need to leverage the most from vitamin D for proper support of our endocrine system and adaptive immune response. Everyone needs to maintain a consistent level of vitamin D year-round with a daily minimum of 400 UI, but I would recommend doubling that to at least 800 UI each day.
The bottom line to good nutrition during cold and flu season is to reduce sugar intake which stresses your body, ensure you are getting enough protein each day, eat more whole fresh veggies, eat cultured foods and make sure you are getting plenty of vitamin D every day during winter months.
Sleep is the next thing that most of us abuse daily with our busy lifestyles. When sleep get short changed, we throw off our entire internal ecosystem. Lack of proper sleep impacts us mentally, hormonally and physically. Sleep is the single most important aspect that your body needs to repair, build and support our immune function. When you lack proper rest, your body canít get inflammation under control which affects our internal organs, digestion and hormone balance. When we sleep, our immune system releases proteins called cytokines that help our bodies fight many aspects of diseases. Lack of sleep has a direct impact to your immune system, but even worse, it can lead to heart disease, cancers and autoimmune problems and more. Everyoneís sleep requirements are different, but on average, we should try to maintain eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
Lack of exercise along with too much exercise are both common ways we undermine our immune system. Sedentary behavior leads to weight gain and poor circulation, all of which has a negative impact on your bodyís ability to fight off illnesses. When we get regular low-to-moderate exercise on a daily basis, we help flush bacteria out of our lungs and boost our white blood cells. Both our innate and adaptive immune responses benefit from exercise through stronger cardiovascular, circulatory and respiratory systems.
On the other side of this is the inflammatory nature of chronic exercise. When we over do our physical activity, we in fact break down our immune system for a time. If we practice chronic exercise, our bodies do not have a chance to fully recover. Itís the chronic nature of overdoing exercise that produces two hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. Both these hormones are counterproductive to the immune system, creating a stress and inflammatory response elevating white blood cells and hormone imbalances.
The best approach to avoid getting sick during cold and flu season is to focus on maintaining a better nutrition plan. Get plenty of uninterrupted sleep and donít damage your sleep cycle with sugary foods and alcohol. Stay active, but do not over do it and maintain moderate activity levels daily. Then, of course, the ubiquitous hand washing with soap often. All of this may very well get you to spring happy, healthy and illness free.
Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation and Certified Health Coach.