Sussex Performance Centre

How To Stay Fighting Fit This Winter

The immune system is a wonderfully complex network of proteins, cells, tissues, and organs which work together to protect your body against disease.

At its best, the immune system defends the body against pathogens—organisms which cause disease—but tolerates non-threatening organisms.

An overactive immune system can be as dangerous as an underactive one, leading to autoimmune diseases and allergic reactions. So, instead of talking about “boosting” the immune system, we should be talking about “supporting” healthy immune responses. 

Here are some tips on how to do just that.

1. Maintain good hygiene

The best way to stay well this winter is hand washing. Any pathogens on our hands can enter our bodies when we prepare and eat food and touch our eyes, nose or mouth. Washing our hands for 20 seconds or longer forms a lather of soap and water; this helps to trap and remove pathogens and chemicals. It is especially important to wash our hands after using the toilet, before and after handling food, after handling animals, and after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers can also be used in addition to hand washing when you are out and about.

2. Think variety for vitamins

Vitamins A, C, D, E, K and the B vitamins play an essential role in maintaining health, as do certain minerals. While supplements may be helpful to certain groups of people, like vegans, pregnant and breastfeeding women, for most people, the best way to get enough vitamins and minerals is to eat a balanced and varied diet. This includes plenty of fruit and vegetables; starchy foods like bread, rice, potatoes, and pasta; some milk and dairy foods and other non-dairy sources of protein; certain meat, fish, and eggs.

3. Vitamin D is the exception

Most of our vitamin D is made in the skin in reaction to sunlight—only a small amount is gained through diet. Vitamin D supplements are typically recommended for people who have darker skin, low sun exposure, the elderly and the very young, especially during the winter months. Taking too many vitamin D supplements may be dangerous, so stick to the recommended daily dose unless you have been advised otherwise by a medical professional.

4. Food prep makes healthy eating easier

One of the main reasons we eat unhealthily is convenience. Finding time to prepare your lunches the night before, or making a meal plan on the weekend can help us take better control of our diet. Eating regular, healthy meals and ensuring our cupboards are stocked with healthy snacking options means we are less likely to overindulge on sugary and salty food and drink.

5. Nurture your gut

Your gut is home to trillions of microbes—bacteria, viruses and fungi—which are a key part of our immune system. The microbes in our gut depend on the food we eat, so a healthy and varied diet supports a healthy gut. So, when you next buy groceries, opt for plant-based foods which are high in fibre such as wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, and legumes, and think about buying oily fish, lean meats, eggs, nuts, and olive oil. Also, many processed foods—like ready meals, sausages, pasties and soft drinks—have large amounts of salt, sugar and fat, so always check the nutrition label.

6. Keep moving

Any daily physical activity is better than none, but moderate physical activity is even better. Moderate aerobic activity like brisk walking, cycling, and dancing increases our heart rates and makes us breathe faster and feel warmer. If you struggle with exercising, try adopting a hobby like gardening or DIY, look for activities you enjoy, like dancing or playing a sport or sign up to a challenge. Vary the types of activity you do to combat boredom—there are many online classes to help you try new things.

It also helps to think about clothing and footwear: lightweight, breathable, weather-appropriate clothing— hats, gloves, and base layers when it is cold— and appropriate footwear all make for a more pleasant experience.

7. Manage stress

Our bodies release stress hormones in response to potential threats. When the threat has passed, our stress hormone levels return to normal. However, prolonged stress can weaken our immune system and cause health problems. Recognising when we are stressed and appropriately managing that stress is a key part of staying well. Common stress management techniques include taking breaks—try going outside for lunch and unwinding during the daylight hours, regular exercise, and adopting simple time-management techniques to take control of the day’s events. It can also be helpful to plan for stressful days or events by scheduling in breaks and making a to-do list.

8. Get some sleep

The length and quality of our sleep impact how we feel mentally and physically. It helps to stick to a fairly regular sleep routine: aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Eating large meals or drinking alcohol late at night may make you feel sleepy, but this can disrupt your sleep during the night. It is also best to avoid having caffeine –tea, coffee, energy drinks—in the evenings. Finally, creating a restful sleeping environment aids a good night’s rest. Try dimming the lights and switching off electronic devices about an hour before your sleep—you may find you have more time for relaxing activities like reading or taking a bath.

9. Stay connected

Feeling lonely and isolated can negatively impact our mood and wellbeing. Consider a walk in the park with a friend, benefitting from the fresh air and greenery as well as companionship. Take advantage of social events like film nights, learn a new skill with others through an online class, or connect with others through volunteering or community work. If isolation is affecting your mood, consider talking to friends and family about how you’re feeling, joining a peer support group, where people use their experiences to help others, or speaking to a health professional.

This article was taken from:

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