Simple Ways To Stay Well
Ensure your body is prepped to fend off illness by building up your immunity.
It’s been a testing year so far, and if coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s the importance of ensuring our health remains a constant priority. From the foods you eat, to the eight hours of shut-eye you’re (hopefully!) getting each night, there’s a multitude of ways to keep well and ensure your immunity to illness is as strong as it can be.
Top Tricks To Build Up Your Immunity
Get outdoors (if you can)
It’s easy to stay inside, in an effort to escape all the germs in our atmosphere. In fact, hiding indoors could make you more susceptible. ‘Exposing your immune system to a wider variety of beneficial micro-organisms from the environment will help to keep it strong and healthy,’ says nutritional therapist Hannah Braye. Plus, studies have shown that getting out in fresh air can lower stress levels, something that can also dampen our immune system response if happening over prolonged periods of time, and boost mental health.
Exercise in moderation
‘Moderate, regular exercise will not compromise your immune system. In fact, it can help improve immune function by flushing out bacteria and reducing your chances of getting a cold,’ says Seana Forbes, nutrition and training specialist at Freeletics.
The Government recommends that we do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity examples include brisk walking or dancing indoors or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week. YouTube is filled with excellent at-home workouts, which are easy to follow alone.
Hit the hay
Sleep and your immune system are closely linked. ‘Studies have shown that those who had a good night’s sleep after receiving vaccinations created more protective antibodies than those who were sleep-deprived,’ explains Hannah. ‘Prolonged periods of not getting enough sleep are therefore likely to have a negative effect on immune function.’ She recommends sticking to a regular bedtime, avoiding blue light an hour before bed and soaking in a magnesium salt bath.
Balancing your blood sugars is not only key for preventing cravings, but it can also stop us suffering from the sniffles. ‘When our blood sugars swing, we overuse insulin, gain body fat and initiate infl ammation,’ says nutritional therapist Yvonne Bishop-Weston. Too much insulin triggers an inflammatory response that depletes the immune system. Yvonne recommends having breakfast within an hour of waking, eating every four hours and protein at each meal, as it slows down the release of carbohydrate sugars in the blood.
Washing your hands frequently with soap and running water is one of the simplest ways to help fight germs and protect against illnesses such as flu and food poisoning. Find a video on best handwashing practice at nhs.uk.
A study conducted by the University of Arizona found that kitchens were more contaminated than bathrooms with the least contaminated site being the toilet seat. The study found that the key bacteria hot spots in both rooms were the ones most frequently touched and/or were in moist environments. These included: sponges/dishcloths, the kitchen sink drain area, the bath sink drain area and the kitchen tap handle. The research revealed that using cleaners containing sodium hypochlorite were successful in reducing the number of potentially harmful bacteria.
Other surprising areas found to be breeding grounds for germs include:
- Our make-up bags particularly make-up brushes and sponges.
- Vacuum cleaner brushes.
- The TV remote.
Stay-Healthy Food Choices
What you eat impacts on your immune system.
‘Get your body in the best possible shape by eating a balanced diet and drinking enough liquid aim for two litres a day,’ says immunologist Dr Jenna Macciochi. Buying these expert-approved foods is a great place to start…
Around 70-80% of our body’s immune system is in the gut in the form of beneficial probiotic bacteria. ‘While people talk a lot about yogurts and dairy probiotics, you can also find probiotics in fermented soya products such as miso,’ says nutritionist Kim Pearson. ‘Try adding it to soups, stews, bean dishes and sauces.
Oily fish such as salmon are rich in omega-3, vital for supporting our immune function. ‘Omega-3 fats help our immune system resist and fight infections such as colds and flu,’ says nutritionist Babi Chana. ‘Diseaseproducing “bugs” attack us only when our bodies are run-down and our natural immune function is poor, so up your omega-3 fats to safeguard against being prone to coughs and colds,’ she says.
These oily fish are high in vitamin D, vital for immunity. ‘A group of Danish scientists found that specialised T cells are critical for immune defence and are dependent upon adequate levels of vitamin D in the blood,’ reveals Shabir Daya, pharmacist and co-founder of victoriahealth.com. ‘In vitamin D deficiency, these T cells remains dormant and can’t attack the bacteria or virus.’ The Government recommends that we should all take a daily 10ug (400 DUI) vitamin D supplement. Read on for our supplement picks…
A root vegetable rich in beta-carotene (vitamin A), it’s important for immune function. ‘Some plant compounds not considered “essential” seem to be helpful for our immunity, such as flavonoids and carotenoids found in brightly-coloured vegetables such as sweet potatoes,’ explains nutritionist Cassandra Barns. Eat sweet potatoes with healthy fats, such as olive oil; beta-carotene is a fat-soluble antioxidant and will absorb better alongside fat.
Antioxidant-rich elderberries could give your immune system the little uplift it needs. ‘Elderberry liquid is my favourite. And one meta-analysis of several studies shows efficacy and safety in the use of elderberry as a treatment of cold and flu symptoms,’ says Tom Greenfield, a member of the General Council and Register of Naturopaths (GCRN). In fact, all berries contain antibacterial and antiviral properties, while blueberries and cranberries are particularly good at fighting infection, and blackcurrants and strawberries are packed with that all-important vitamin C.
This fruit is used in various cultures to treat illnesses. ‘Cranberries or their juice are known to have a number of special health benefits, including maintaining the health of the digestive system and fighting off sore throats and colds,’ says Dr Macciochi. A daily glass of cranberry juice is a simple way to give your body an everyday immune system boost.
‘Red meats are rich in zinc, essential to the immune system,’ explains Kim Pearson. Zinc helps heal wounds and fight infections, so if you’re a meat-eater, include red meat such as beef, pork and lamb in your diet. ‘It’s vital for the primary gland of immunity, the thymus gland and is required for white blood cell production too,’ says Shabir Daya. However, red and processed meat (eg bacon), is best eaten in moderation the NHS recommends limiting it to 70g daily (five slices of lunch ham). For vegetarians and vegans, chickpeas, lentils and chia seeds are also rich zinc sources.
Make this your first choice when you’re under the weather. ‘Ginger clears the microcirculatory channels of the body, helping to decongest the sinuses, throat and nose,’ explains Frida Harju Westman, nutritionist at health app Lifesum. Its anti-inflammatory properties can also help aching muscles and joints, making it perfect for treating flu symptoms. ‘I’d suggest having ginger in the morning by adding it into your juice, or grating some over your porridge,’ she adds.
Stress Less, Sleep More, Stay Well
Feeling overwhelmed and not getting enough shut-eye can have a major impact on our immune system. Experts share tips on controlling stress and sleeping well.
Rob Hobson, Healthspan registered nutritionist and author of The Art of Sleeping (£9.99, HQ), explains, ‘Longterm chronic stress has the biggest impact on your immune system and can lead to depression, anxiety and highblood pressure, as well as increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke.’
He adds, ‘This type of stress can cause inflammation, which doesn’t “switch off”, causing the body to attack healthy tissues and organs.’
During stress, the body produces the hormone cortisol, which can make it tricky to then regulate its inflammatory response. White blood cell production could also become impaired, making you less able to fight off viruses.
The average adult faces poor sleep three nights a week. Not sleeping is a risk factor for conditions such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, as well as weight gain. However, sleep helps our bodies during these stressful times, as it then has a chance to repair and recover.
Alison Cullen, nutritional therapist for A.Vogel, explains that our genes can change depending on lifestyle choices, including how much sleep we get.
‘Sleep stabilises genes to prevent destructive changes,’ she says. ‘Missing an hour a night over a long period of time can make you more prone to develop degenerative types of diseases. However, one hour a night extra will strengthen your immune system, make you more resistant to the effects of stress and reduce inflammatory processes.’
Alison also adds that achieving less than seven hours sleep per night makes it more likely that you’ll develop a cold than when you get eight hours or more. Simple tips for boosting your shut-eye while also keeping stress levels low include avoiding alcohol it can affect the amount of REM (the restorative stage in the cycle) sleep you get and eating complex carbs before bed, to keep blood sugar stabilised
‘This prevents a drop in blood sugar levels, which would otherwise signal the adrenal glands to secrete the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which disturb sleep,’ says Rob.
He also points out that eating large and/or fatty or spicy meals too close to bedtime can trigger indigestion and/or heartburn. ’There is also recent research linking too much sugar to more restless and disrupted sleep.’ Ditto exercising too close to bedtime although working out is more beneficial than most drugs when it comes to insomnia, doing it before bedtime can increase alertness. And when it comes to digital devices and laptops, Rob reckons we should switch off an hour before hitting the sack. ‘It’s not just the blue light that disrupts sleep, but all the stuff you start thinking about when you log on,’ he explains.
The herbal remedy valerian can increase the chance of improved sleep quality by a staggering 80% compared with a placebo, says Rob Hobson.
8 Ways To Manage Stress For a Healthier Immunity
Try practising these simple tips from nutritional therapist Alison Cullen.
Work It Out
Try an indoor workout run up and down the stairs, or even do some really brisk housework to burn up the cortisol and work off that adrenaline.
As you breathe out, you signal to the parasympathetic nervous system to instruct your body to calm down. Breathing exercises, whereby you breathe out for longer than you breathe in, will keep you zen-like.
Make It Real
Due to our human need for connection and physical presence, spending time in the presence of friends can be extremely beneficial. This isn’t easy to do in the current environment, so get outside where you can.
Foods rich in zinc, B vitamins, vitamin C and magnesium have a stress-combating effect. So stock up on spinach, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, fish, nuts, beans and wholegrains.
Having fun reduces the level of stress hormones in your body. Turn off the news and horror films, and watch a comedy, or read a joke book to relax your nervous system. It responds to pictures of trauma as if it has to protect you in similar circumstances, so give it some time off.
Gentle, harmonious music is calming. Avoid too many raucous beats when you are stressed and go for something more soothing or even switch off altogether!
Be Well Watered
Water needs to be still and plain (not sparkling or flavoured), and is best drunk at room temperature or warm. It’s good for energy, your bowel and skin.
Rocking is soothing for the human body and mind, reconnecting us as it does with the gentle slosh of amniotic fluid in the womb. Applying the technique can calm you down.