Winter, which is about to come, looks like a difficult season due to the cold temperatures that bring with it diseases such as colds, coughs, flu and this year Covid also. To protect yourself adequately, it is necessary to strengthen your immune system.
Here are 5 essential things to do for an efficient immunity.
- Healthy and balanced nutrition. Proper nutrition provides the energy needed to stay fit and to produce antibodies. You will therefore have to be careful to consume seasonal fruit and vegetables, limiting industrial and over-sweetened products. The ideal is to prepare your own meals, limiting sodas, pastries and alcoholic beverages because they can hinder the immune system. Some vegetables, such as mushrooms (like shiitaki), garlic, onion, shallot, and ginger have antibacterial properties. To stimulate our immune defences, you must also include fats in your diet, favouring mono-saturated or poly-saturated fats (fish such as sardines or mackerel and vegetable oils such as extra-virgin olive oil). It is highly recommended avoiding saturated fats like butter and whole milk. It would also be important to take a probiotic cure to strengthen our intestines. Perhaps you know that 70% of our immune system is in our intestines and probiotics strengthen the intestinal mucosa, especially in winter or if you have a serious or chronic illness. These micro-organisms are found in yoghurt and fermented milk. Another important part of winter nutrition are elements like zinc and selenium, which also contribute to stimulating the immune system and are found in foods rich in proteins such as crustaceans, egg yolk, poultry and the cheese.
- Vitamins. Vitamin A is a precious ally of immunity because it stimulates the production of antibodies. Products of animal origin such as meat, fish, whole milk and milk products in general are rich in vitamin A. Vitamin C, found in fruits and vegetables, helps the formation of immune cells. Vitamin E is naturally present in sunflower seeds and vegetable oils. It has to be an important part in the nutrition of elderly people because it compensates for the loss of immune defences due to ageing. As for vitamin D, its effectiveness is proven in the regulation of immunity. It also acts to counter the development of some autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. The main source of vitamin D is the sunlight. If you live in Belgium like me, or in another country in the Northern hemisphere, where the sun is scarce during the winter, taking supplement of vitamin D is recommended, especially if you are a woman in menopause or a person of a certain age. It is true that you can also find it in fatty fish, but in small quantities.
- The quality of sleep. Sleep disorders affect many people. The benefits of a pleasant night are well known. Stress and toxin are eliminated, tissues are repaired, cells are regenerated and you wake up in a good mood. A good sleep, in addition to having these effects, also strengthens your immune system and protects you from infections. To be well rested, you need to get enough sleep, between 6 and 8 hours. If you are having trouble falling asleep, have a ritual to clear your mind, avoid drinking coffee, overeating, and drinking too much alcohol in the evening. To prepare for a quiet night, remove from your room all the elements that stimulate your attention too much and emit blue light (TV, mobile phone, computer). Practising a relaxing activity such as meditation and reading before sleeping, may help you in falling asleep. An herbal tea before going to bed may also help you.
- Exposure to light. Light has an impact on the regulation of the biological clock. The lack of light, or the wrong light (artificial light, the blue light from the LED screens I mentioned earlier, night work shifts, or too rich diets), could have consequences on sleep and the immune system. To regulate your biological clock, try to get maximum exposure to sunlight, letting it into your home and workplace. In case of major disorders, you can buy a light therapy lamp that simulates sunlight in intensity and light spectrum. You can find them in every price range.
- Finally, physical activity. Regular physical activity has a direct effect on immunity. By improving blood circulation, exercise allows the different components of the immune system to spread better in the body. In older people, it helps prevent the decline of immune functions. But be careful not to practise too intensely as this could have a counterproductive effect. It is quite easy to practice good habits to get some physical activity on a daily basis. For example, you can take the stairs instead of taking the elevator or you can walk 30 minutes a day. If you want to go to the gym (a bit difficult in these Covid times), take it easy and listen to the advice of your coach or use an app.