How to boost your immune system and lower stress levels this winter
boost your immune system

One of the most important things you can do for your health is to boost your immune system and lower stress levels this winter. Keeping your immune system strong and healthy this winter means you will be less prone to colds and infections whilst keeping stress levels low can support your immune system further.

Here we look at ways to help you ensure you are feeling your best this winter.

Reduce your stress levels

High levels of stress have been shown to weaken your immune system [1]. It may be easier said than done but keeping your stress levels down may reduce your chances of getting ill. Yoga, relaxation techniques, and mindfulness have all been proven effective in lowering stress levels [2,3,4].

While now may not be the time to start a new class, there are plenty of classes available on the internet, and you can even download apps on your phone to help you learn various techniques. Focusing on your breath is a simple way of cultivating mindfulness. It may be simple but it’s not exactly easy, so don’t beat yourself up when your mind begins to wander. Trying not to judge, gently bring back your awareness to your breath and notice the sensations in your body.

Get outdoors

Spending time outdoors has been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure [5]. It’s also been linked to mood elevation, feelings of wellbeing, and perhaps even disease prevention [6]. We all love to be outside, so give yourself the time to do so now. Take a walk in the woods, ride a bike through the park, or get out in the garden.

It doesn’t really matter what you do or where you go. They key here is to get some fresh air and surround yourself with trees and plants. Don’t let the weather bother you. If it’s cold outside or pouring with rain, don a warm coat or a pair of wellies and head for the hills.

Follow a healthy diet

Getting plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is a sure-fire way of staying strong and healthy. Studies have shown that a diet rich in vitamin C helps prevent against the damage caused by stress on the body [7]. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, green, leafy vegetables, and even in potatoes.

Don’t worry too much about getting the right amounts of each vitamin, though. Fill your plate high with fresh, whole foods and you’ll probably be getting a good enough intake. Ginger and lemon make an excellent immune-boosting tonic, while beetroot is one of the best vegetables you can consume. Cut down on carbonated drinks, caffeine, processed sugar, and ready meals, and instead treat yourself well to some good, old-fashioned home cooking.

Get plenty of vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for your immune system. Your body converts it from the sun, but it’s also found in egg yolks, some fish, and fortified cereals and milks. Spending a little time every day in the sunshine may be difficult at this time of year, so if you aren’t getting it from your diet and you think you may be deficient, consider taking a daily supplement.

Exercise

When stress-induced cortisol and adrenaline build up in the body they can cause inflammation and put you at risk of getting ill. The good news is that exercise helps combat this. Regular aerobic exercise not only strengthens your heart; it wards off depression and alleviates stress too [8].  You may not want to join a gym. However, you have plenty of other options. Go for a brisk walk, give running a try, dance around your living room, or put on an aerobics class on YouTube.

Sleep well

The importance of sleep has been well documented, and in times of stress it’s doubly important that you give yourself plenty of time to rest. Adults need between seven and nine hours per night for optimal functioning, while children generally need more. If you have trouble sleeping, reducing your stress levels can help, as can drinking chamomile tea before bed. But if you still find your mind whirring, the European Guideline for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Insomnia suggests cognitive behavioural therapy as first-line treatment [9].

Avoid alcohol

If your looking to boost your immune system this winter you will certainly want to be looking at your alcohol intake.  Drinking too much alcohol weakens the immune system and makes you more prone to getting sick.  Alcohol alters the makeup of your gut microbiome — home to trillions of microorganisms performing several crucial roles for your health — and affects those microorganisms’ ability to support your immune system. It seems that drinking alcohol may also damage the immune cells that line the intestines and serve as the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses.

And it’s not just that you’re more likely to get a cold — excessive drinking is linked to pneumonia and other pulmonary diseases. It can also lead to a wide range of health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease, liver disease, and increased risk of cancer.

Quit smoking and avoid smoky places

Smoking increases your risk of suffering an array of health conditions. The coronavirus is a respiratory disease that can cause breathing difficulties, shortness of breath, and severe acute respiratory syndrome or even death. It stands to reason that putting an unnecessary strain on your lungs will put you at a higher risk of suffering complications should you contact the virus.

Like this blog?  Check out our blog Wellness and Self Care for the Winter Months 

References

  1. Stress weakens the immune system
  2. Yoga, mindfulness-based stress reduction and stress-related physiological measures: A meta-analysis
  3. Stress management
  4. Common and Dissociable Neural Activity After Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Relaxation Response Programs
  5. Does spending time outdoors reduce stress? A review of real-time stress response to outdoor environments
  6. Health and well-being benefits of spending time in forests: systematic revie
  7. Ascorbate is an outstanding antioxidant in human blood plasma
  8. Exercising to relax
  9. European Guideline for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Insomnia
  10. Acceptance lowers stress reactivity: Dismantling mindfulness training in a randomized controlled trial

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