If it’s not the cold weather that makes people sick — as mothers across America suggest — why do people catch more viruses in the winter?
Our body’s immune system does an amazing job of protecting people against myriad viruses and infections that they encounter daily. However, because colder weather makes people less inspired to go outside, we tend to be in closer proximity indoors. That means our immune systems need to work extra hard to keep the body healthy, and, despite its best efforts, some viruses fall through the cracks — and illness ensues.
Science hasn’t given definitive answers for complete protection against viruses, in part, because the immune system is, well, a system. There are many moving parts. Fortunately, there are ways to fortify the pieces of that system so it can work at its maximum capacity.
How to Kick Your Immune System Into High Gear
When the separate pieces of your immune system work well, so will the entire system. Consider these seven ways to ramp up your immune system and protect against the daily barrage of viruses you encounter:
- Make Time for Friendship
It’s nice to know that something you like to do is actually good for you, but it’s true. People who have strong social connects don’t get sick as often.
One study found that of the 276 people studied, those who had six or more friend connections were four times better at fighting off cold viruses than those with fewer connections. Whether you stop by a friend’s office at work or schedule a lunch date, make time for friends for a healthier you.
- Sleep Better
There are a thousand and one reasons to get a good night’s sleep — it helps prevent stress, weight gain and anxiety, but science also suggests that it helps the immune system stay strong. When people sleep, their immune systems release proteins that promote sleep, called cytokines. Some kinds of cytokines increase with infection, stress or inflammation and help to fight the ailment. When people don’t get adequate sleep, the body can’t produce enough of these protective cytokines.
To compound the weak production of cytokines, fewer infection-fighting antibodies are released when the body doesn’t get enough sleep. Sleep is necessary to fight infectious diseases. In fact, long-term sleep deprivation increases a person’s risk of diabetes and heart disease.
- Deal With Stress
Many doctors suggest avoiding stress for better health. Less stress means a happier life and a heathier one. Of course, it’s impossible to get rid of all the stressors in daily life, but handling what triggers stress with more mindfulness can curtail anxiety-inducing stressors that tank the immune system and cause people to become sick more often.
When you feel stress working you up, try:
- Deep breathing.
- Calling a friend.
- Listening to music.
Sometimes, just slowing down enough to gain perspective on your situation can reduce stress and anxiety. And it’s worth it — less sickness means less reasons for stress, too.
- Go for a Walk, Jog or Bike Ride
People who exercise get sick less, and though there’s not enough evidence to say exactly why, scientists have some ideas. It may be that exercise flushes bacteria out of the lungs. It could also be because white blood cells — the cells that support the immune system — are circulating more rapidly when people exert themselves. Since higher temperatures fight bacteria, too, the rise in body temp during excursion may kill bacteria that could cause illness.
What doctors do know is that exercise helps with stress, which in turn, helps strengthen the body’s immune response.
- Eat Better
Foods rich in vitamins and nutrients make the body run better, and that includes the immune system. A few foods that seem to bolster the immune system are:
- Barley and oats
- Chicken soup
- Sweet potatoes
In addition to these foods known for keeping colds and flus at bay, tea also has antioxidants that might help keep the body from catching every virus that comes its way. Also, before you even focus on your stomach think about your mouth and gum health. A healthy stomach, and body over all starts with your mouth. If you’re behind on dental care or just want to be proactive, make an appointment to get your pearly whites check out.
- Get Outside
Vitamin D — the only natural sources of which is the sun — encourages the cell receptors in the body that help the immune system function. Double your immune power by finding a friend to go with you!
If you live in a low-light area, consider taking a vitamin D supplement for improved immunity from cold and viruses.
Treat Your Body Well for Improved Health
Even those who eat well, exercise to optimal capacity and have low stress will sometimes catch a cold or virus, but a strong immune system can mean faster recovery and less incidence of illness overall. Encourage overall health, and the immune system will follow suit — no matter what time of year it is.