We all know the feeling: the itchy throat, the slight cough and that headache that doesn’t want to go away. There is a chill in the air and you feel a cold coming on. Winter is fast approaching, and with it, the ushering of cold and flu season. It’s up to you, and more importantly, your immune system, to get through the winter months in one piece.
Your immune system is your one and only defense against illness, so it is paramount that you keep it in optimal working order.
This is no easy task. The immune system is constantly working to identify and decide what is friendly and helpful to your body and what is a foe and potentially damaging. It is important to remember that the goal is not to not get sick. Illness happens, especially during winter months spent mostly indoors. The goal is balance. An out-of-balance immune system can go one of two ways: it can be over-active or under-active. You may not get sick as often, but an overactive immune system begins to recognize your body as foe. The result is auto-immune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, MS and allergies. An under-active immune system begins to get a little too friendly with the bad guys, like bacteria and viruses. The result is a never-ending cold, or worse, a secondary infection. What started as a simple cold is now bronchitis or pneumonia. Maintaining that proper balance can be a challenge, as there are many things working to suppress it. Stress, lack of sleep, past illness, depression, poor diet, excessive sugar consumption, chemicals in our diet, allergies; all these things are working against your fight to stay healthy.
Here are a few ways to keep your immune system strong and ready to fight:
Mindful Eating: Eat a good diet. This means whole, minimally processed, nutrient-dense food. Sticking to healthy foods ensures your body all the vitamins and minerals it requires without any unwanted chemicals that your immune system has to work to eliminate. But beyond the actual food, quantity control is as important as the foods you consume. Overeating works against your immune system and improves your chances of illness. Excessive sugar consumption as well. Being mindful of all aspects of your diet will go a long way at keeping you healthy.
Relax: Stress triggers the inflammatory process, which automatically involves the immune system. Winter is here and many of us lead busy lives. But taking the time to breathe and relax will help to preserve the integrity of your immune system.
Rest: Lack of sleep is a huge suppressor of the immune system. The nights are long for a reason; use them to sleep. Proper rest gives your immune system a much needed break, and a boost, to keep those bugs at bay.
Exercise: Our lymphatic system plays a key role in eliminating the foreign cells from exposure to all kinds of illness. The lymph nodes are essentially storage tanks for these unwanted cells, which is why you can feel them when you are sick. Your lymphatic system has no internal pump, the only way to work these foreign invaders out of your system, and into your blood, where they can be broken down and eliminated, is by muscle activity. This is why exercise is so important. Without it, the bad guys remain “stored” in the lymph nodes with no way out. So they just sit there, stagnating, putting you at risk of further infection.
Teas and Tonics: Winter is the time for a nice cup of hot tea. Herbal teas and tonics are a great way to maintain a healthy immune system when you can’t always follow the four tenets listed above. Known in China for centuries as the “herb for longevity,” red reishi has been used for its anti-aging properties, as a boost to energy levels, and as support for the immune system. Echinacea, of course, is known by many for its support through the cold and flu season. But fewer folks know that the herb Astragalus has been shown to be quite helpful in boosting the immune system, reducing the frequency of colds and producing increased resistance to infection. All of these natural medicinals can be found in liquid form and can easily be added to your favorite herbal tea.
Winters are long and illness happens, but you can put up a good fight. The goal: have a strong immune system to begin with. Let it do its job to eliminate illness if it occurs, and remember that it still needs support after the illness has passed, so you don’t become susceptible to further, or more severe, infections. Your immune system is working incessantly to keep you healthy. Give it what it needs and you may just enjoy a winter without a doctor’s visit.