You know the drill – it starts with a tickle in the back of your throat, then a runny nose and, before you know it, you’ve got the cold that’s ‘going around’. Side-step succumbing to any lurgies by following our guide to staying healthy all winter long.
1. Stress less, sleep more
When you feel anxious or stressed, your immune system’s ability to fight off infections decreases. This is because stress reduces your body’s levels of lymphocytes (the white blood cells that help fend off illness), and the lower your lymphocyte level, the more at risk you are of catching viruses. “Maintain stress levels by aiming to get eight hours of good quality sleep a night,” recommends Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, GP at Your Doctor (your-doctor.co.uk). “A bad night’s slumber increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol and can even lead to inflammation in your body.”
2. Get moving
“Exercising a few times a week can reduce the amount of colds that you get in a year, due to the numerous positive effects that it has on your body,” explains Kajsa Ernestam, in-house dietitian at the health app Lifesum (lifesum.com). “For example, regular exercise helps your lungs get better at handling oxygen and become quicker at delivering it to the rest of your body. Your immune system is very similar to this organ, which means that regular exercise provides your cells with a boost, helping them to work better and faster, which is essential when they’re faced with bacteria. Doing as little as 20-30 minutes of daily exercise such as walking can hugely improve your body’s defences. If walking is something you are not keen on, yoga is a fantastic alternative.”
3. Seek the sunshine vitamin
“Vitamin D is a core nutrient for you to be conscious of because it’s crucial for activating immune defences, and without sufficient intake, your immune system would not be able to react to fight off infections in your body,” explains Keeley Berry, nutritional expert at BetterYou (betteryou. com). “The amount of sunlight in the UK depletes from October, so this combined with increasingly indoor-lead lifestyles and processed diets means that we do not get enough of this vital vitamin. Public Health England recommends that everyone in the UK takes a vitamin D supplement from October through to April, with at risk groups such as those with lighter skin, or those leading an internal lifestyle, to supplement all year round.” This is also a good opportunity to go outside for a brisk walk, as you’ll also be exposed to more natural sunlight which helps to improve levels of vitamin D.
4. Eat well
Food is medicine. “A healthy immune system needs good, regular nourishment,” says Dr Riccardo. “Those who are malnourished are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. Try to eat seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day and swap white carbs for wholegrains. Avoid sugar, too – just 10 teaspoons of sugar a day may impair the ability of white blood cells to fight viruses.” Finally, don’t forget to eat your greens. “Spinach, like tomatoes, contains antioxidants that combat free radicals,” adds Kajsa. “It’s also full of vitamin C, which helps the body fight infection and increases the levels of antioxidants in the body. Add some mushrooms to fresh spinach for an extra healthy boost!”
5. Spice up your life
“Roots such as ginger have anti-inflammatory properties which can help aching muscles and joints (a symptom of colds and flu), as well as clearing your throat and nose,” says Kajsa. You could also try the golden spice, turmeric. “Turmeric’s antibacterial and antiviral properties strengthen the immune system and can reduce your chances of suffering from cold and flu. Turmeric also contains a substance which stimulates the body’s immune system and kicks it into action if you already have a cold.” If you can feel a cold brewing, try Kajsa’s warming cure – make a strong cup of tea, then add one clove of pressed garlic, one slice of lemon or orange, a tablespoon of honey and some grated ginger. “It sounds (and tastes) quite strong, but it works!”
6. Laugh more
“It sounds a little silly but laughter may increase the production of antibodies and white blood cells in your body, plus reduce hormones associated with stress,” says Dr Riccardo. “Not only does laughing help you mentally, but also physically! Many argue that a positive state of mind keeps you well and improves the recovery from sickness.”
7. Be a bit more dirty
We’re not suggesting you stop showering by any means, but embracing a few germs may not be all that bad! “There is mounting evidence to suggest that people who live in built-up cities experience more immune diseases than those living rurally,” says Steve Bennett author of Primal Cure. “Those living in built-up environments are living in this clinical, overly sterilised bubble. The whole world seems obsessed with cleanliness, when the reality is that we are mass-murdering the friendly bacteria.” In fact, research published in the journal Immunity shows that good bacteria interacts with the epithelial cells that line your gut and cells of your immune system, helping balance the immune responses and protect the gut from unwanted inflammation.
8. Try natural remedies
There’s an abundance of herbs and plants that can give your immune system a helping hand. “Take a soak in the tub with some Epsom bath salts, lavender, eucalyptus oils and a splash of baking soda,” recommends nutritionist Lizzie King (lizzieloveshealthy.com). “Not only is this a bit of warming comfort, it’s also really relaxing and great to help clear your airways. Black elderberries are also a highly concentrated source of antioxidants, flavonoids and virus suppressants, and the extract is used in so many cold and flu remedies now. To ease the first signs of congestion, use a diffuser with a combination of oils such as lavender or Olbas oil – it makes nights full of coughs so much easier to handle.”
9. Top up your supplements
“In an ideal world, you would always get your nutrients from your diet, but for some it can prove tricky and supplementation can help to plug the nutrient gap left behind,” explains Keeley. She recommends increasing your levels of the following nutrients to stay healthy. “Zinc and B vitamins are important for activating immune defences. Zinc, plays a role in several immune mechanisms within your body, specifically helping white blood cells to produce antibodies to fight off winter bugs. B vitamins are essential for energy production, with vitamin B12 being great for boosting your immune system and helping to combat tiredness and fatigue. Also, magnesium is used by the body to initiate over 300 reactions that keep you healthy and functioning. Magnesium is an important co-factor for the formation of antibodies, and depletion in this mineral may decrease the body’s natural defence system.”
10. Get the flu jab
Although not an essential, you may decide to get a flu jab at the start of the season to help your body prepare for any bugs. “It’s recommended for those who for are considered ‘at risk’ such as pregnant women, the elderly, or people with certain diseases such as coeliac disease, as well as carers,” says Dr Riccardo. “We know that having the flu jab significantly lowers the rates of sickness and death in older people when compared to no vaccination.”