With the cooler weather setting in, the cold and flu season is upon us. There’s nothing worse than getting sick, especially right before a key event! Here are our top five tips for looking after your immune system and staying well this winter.
1. Get your 2 fruit and 5 veggie serves in each day
Vitamins and minerals are important for a huge range of reactions within the body such as growth and repair, muscle function, energy metabolism and protection from free radical damage. If we don’t get enough of certain nutrients, our health and performance suffers. It also increases your risk of getting sick. That doesn’t mean you need to start sucking back the multivitamins. Focus on getting a variety of nutrients each day from fresh fruits and vegetables. The more colours, the better to ensure you’re getting a wide range of important, sickness busting vitamins and minerals.
Keep up your daily dose of 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables during the comfort food season with these ideas:
- Go for warm salads with plenty of roasted vegetables like zucchini, eggplant and capsicum, red onion.
- Try vegetable soups loaded up with all of the leftovers in the fridge at the end of the week. These will keep you warm from the inside and provides loads of nourishment. Be sure to include a protein source though if this is your main meal.
- Baked fruits like apples, pears and stone fruit make perfect snacks with a little Greek yoghurt on top.
2. Get enough sleep
Despite what some people think, most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. If you’re sleep deprived and run down you increase your risk of getting sick. Sleep is your ultimate form of recovery, so if you’re not getting enough, you may actually be blunting the effect of training and increasing your risk of picking up the next bug.
Turn your screens off early as the blue light emitted from phone and computer screens affects your natural sleep hormone, melatonin. Set night shift on your phone to start from 6pm which shifts the colour of your screen to the warmer end of the colour spectrum. This may help you sleep better. Get out of the habit of scrolling through Instagram before bed. Read a book instead to relax and wind down.
3. Stress less
High stress levels are well documented as being immunosuppressive. Stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline and prolactin are influenced by negative events and negative emotions, inducing adverse immunological changes.
The longer you’re stressed for (1 month or more) and the more often you’re stressed appears to be directly related to increased incidence of developing cold and flu symptoms.
Life is sometimes stressful – we get it. If you feel your stress levels getting out of hand, find ways to manage this that works for you. Do some exercise, yoga, meditation, go for a walk, read a book, call a friend, take a holiday!
4. Look after your gut micro-biome
Your gut plays a huge role in maintaining your immune function. Look after it to prevent picking up colds and flu’s this winter.
Promote balance of good bacteria by eating lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, yoghurt with live cultures and fermented foods such as tempeh, miso, kimchi and sauerkraut. Take antibiotics only when they are necessary. Remember, antibiotics won’t help you if you have a virus such as a cold or the flu.
Probiotic supplements also have proven benefit in maintaining gastrointestinal function and positively affecting immunity. If you travel a lot or have a key event coming up, talk to a sports dietitian about whether it’s worth taking a probiotic supplement to support your immune function.
5. Be hygienic
This shouldn’t be news by any means, but good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands frequently can help stop the spread of germs and prevent getting sick. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth. Prevention is key.
- Wash your hands often with warm water and soap, especially before eating.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently, especially when someone is sick.
- Dispose of tissues hygienically, don’t leave them lying around.
- Don’t share cutlery, glasses or water bottles with someone that is sick (or well for that matter)
- If family or friends are sick, give them space and be extra careful with hygiene
- If you fly frequently, don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth unless you’ve washed your hands with warm water and soap.
If you do feel like you’re coming down with something, there’s good evidence to suggest Vitamin C and Zinc can help prevent or decrease the severity of a cold or flu. Check with your GP or Sports Dietitian to see if this is a good idea for you.
Stay well guys!