“‘WYH’…. not a misspelling, ‘Wash Your Hands!’” The phrase is posted in many stairwells, cafeterias, and bathrooms stall of restaurants, offices, and college campuses. While this is sound advice, at least some contact with germs is inevitable for the individual who works, goes to school, or leaves home for any reason during the dreaded cold and flu season. It is therefore of utmost importance to employ various lifestyle strategies to equip your immune system to fight any bugs you may pick up along the way. And since we all love acronyms, just think “LERN”.
Laugh. The stress that accompanies this busy time of year often downregulates various aspects of your immune system, such as the virus-fighting activities of Natural Killer (NK) cells. Multiples studies have found that laughter incited by humorous videos was paralleled by increased NK activity. So, do yourself a favor this season and fill your breaks with funny vines, Will Ferrell comedies, or whatever “tickles” your fancy.
Exercise. Getting to the gym or outside for a walk might not be the preferred activity when temperatures dip to the 30s, but it may be just what the doctor ordered. Moderate intensity exercise may upregulate NK cells, attenuate respiratory symptoms, and reduce stress to improve overall well-being. Try and stay warm but kick off that Snuggie and break a little sweat with some physical activity.
Rest. There are only so many hours in a day to get all those important to-dos crossed off the list, but getting your eight hours and maintaining your circadian rhythm should be near the top. The immune system comprises multiple cells with varying functions, and while NK cell and anti-inflammatory cytokine activity peak during the day, pro-inflammatory cytokines and T-cells are produced primarily at night. Preserving your sleep cycle promotes balance between immune cell types and those long, winter-night rests may be essential for their proper functioning.
Nutrition. Do you ever feel like it’s easier to eat apples and crunch on carrots when it’s sunny and 70 degrees outside? Hot chocolate and other sweet, soul warming delights might feel like all you want, but when your immune system is on the fritz it is more important than ever to eat high quality proteins and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Next time, we’ll talk about some easy ways to incorporate nutrient-rich foods into a winter-friendly diet, as well as which specific nutrients are especially helpful to boost your immunity this winter.
By: Danielle Ashley