As autumn settles in, we know the holiday onslaught is about to begin – with Halloween, then Thanksgiving, Hanukah and Christmas in short order. We also see something else creeping up: flu season.
As we welcome the festivities of fall we should also prepare our immune systems for flu season. In America, the flu season peaks in January or February, but it starts as early as October. Fortunately, the most recent flu vaccines become available in September.
There is always a great deal of public concern about flu season, and rightfully so. Flu is an unpredictable illness that can run the gamut from a minor annoyance to a deadly epidemic. We are all strongly encouraged to get the latest flu vaccination each year, and the “natural” and homeopathic remedies are plentiful.
If, however, your own immune system is strong enough to defend against the virus that causes flu, then remedies become unnecessary. There are a number of choices we can make to help our body’s natural immune system get into shape before the flu season starts.
You Are What You Eat
Most of us can remember our parents telling us this truism, but these days the news media also tells us about a new “super food” on the market every week. These heroes of the food chain are generally hailed as the next miracle disease preventative.
Before spending a small fortune to stock your pantry, take a deep breath and consider this: No single food item is a miracle immune booster that can make us invulnerable to disease. The health of your immune system is reflected in your overall wellness. A healthy, balanced diet is the bedrock of a healthy lifestyle.
To boost your immune system, you’ll need to focus your diet on a balanced intake of carbohydrates and fats. You should include proteins from a wide range of sources, such as meat and dairy products. For those who prefer a plant-based diet, consider a variety of vegetables, beans, grains, nuts and seeds.
Phytochemicals are one naturally occurring substance that is found in most modern diets. These are compounds naturally found in plants that pass their health benefits on to us when included as part of a balanced diet. We gain the benefits of these phytochemicals when we eat more fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.
Get Up and Get Moving!
Any truly healthy lifestyle must include a physical activity component. Unfortunately, not all of us are keen on hitting the gym on a regular basis. Some of us aren’t even interested in hitting the gym on an irregular basis. Neglecting our body’s need to be up and moving is not an option if good health and wellness are our goals. A physically fit body is much more likely to sport an immune system that can fight off an attack of influenza virus and other illness-causing pathogens.
Ideally, each of us would find a way to work about 150 minutes of exercise into our routine every week. If this isn’t a realistic goal for you, don’t fret. You can still gain some health benefits by being physically active in your everyday life. There are simple steps you can take, and small changes in the way you approach your activities of daily living, that can garner healthy benefits that boost your immune system and contribute to a general state of wellness.
Always losing your remote for the TV? Let it stay lost! Get up to change the TV channel rather than clicking the remote. This simple activity gives your major muscle groups something to do rather than just building up your thumb muscle.
If your workplace is on the second, third or even fourth floor, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. Use the stairs when arriving to work, going out for lunch and returning, and again when leaving at the close of the workday. This may seem like torture when you first begin, but stick with it. It won’t be long before you’re breezing up and down those stairs without breaking a sweat!
If your favorite shopping locales are only a block or two away, try walking rather than driving. Or shopping at a local mall? Park as far from the main door to get those steps in.
You don’t have to join a gym or invest in an expensive treadmill or incline elliptical to capitalize on the healthy benefits that physical activity can provide. The key to whatever physical activities interest you is: consistency. You have to keep it up to see the results over time.
Timing Is Key
The benefits to be gained from eating a balanced diet are indisputable. Just as important, however, is the timing of our daily meals. In the hustle and bustle of today’s globalized world, the stress and strain of a busy life often leads us into patterns that include erratic eating habits.
We may “grab a bite” while on the go between meetings or parental obligations. Many tend to overcompensate in a later meal to make up for the breakfast or lunch they missed earlier.
A widespread practice is to simply grab an energy bar or small snack while on the go, reasoning that this will be sufficient to “tide you over” until you have time to sit down to eat a proper meal.
Too often, what is popular is not always the same thing as what is physically beneficial. Being inconsistent in supplying your body with the nutritional intake it needs does not help keep your body fueled up and healthy. An erratic schedule of eating healthy meals can contribute to weight gain, a condition known to reduce your body’s ability to fight off infections. You should be consuming your main meals at around the same time every day, including weekends.
Kick Back, Rest and Relax
Life today is stressful.. A tired, overworked, stressed-out body cannot maintain a strong immune system to fight off disease. As flu season approaches, it is more important than ever to keep our bodies rested, and our immune systems vibrant and strong. Periods of rest and relaxation routines should be a part of our daily rituals each evening.
Taking a short vacation now and then can help, even if it is nothing more than getting away for a weekend or taking a personal day. When we are overworked and stressing constantly over employment- or family-related issues, our bodies are incapable of recuperating from the daily grind. This places a strain on all your body’s systems, not just your immunity levels.
Equally important is the need for adequate sleep. Some adults can manage effectively with six or seven hours of sleep each night; eight hours is a far better goal. Although it sounds appealing to sleep all day on our days off, we should try to avoid sleeping more than 10 hours at a time. Contrary to some schools of thought, you can’t power through all week on little sleep, only to catch up on the weekend. That is simply not a beneficial solution to the problem of sufficient sleep.
Attitude Is Everything
Multiple studies have been done recently on the link between mind and body. Your mental state is known to have a detrimental effect on your immune defenses when your mind is not in a healthy place. An unhealthy mental attitude can impair your body’s ability to recover from episodes of illness and may even contribute to the development of certain diseases. We may not be able to avoid the stress and strain of modern life, but we can control our mental attitude.
Periods of strife and disharmony are normal in everyone’s life from time to time. Maintaining a positive mental outlook in life, at work, and in our relationships can have a positive impact on our overall wellness. Adoption of a healthy mental attitude can go a long way toward boosting your immune system’s ability to fight off illness such as the flu.
Kick the Habits
The detrimental effects of tobacco use on our bodies in general, and our immune systems in particular, is well documented. Smokers have weaker immune defenses against respiratory infections, influenza, and related medical conditions. Living with a smoker also places you at similar risk. Passive smoke exposure leaves you more likely to contract the flu. Children are especially prone to flu and respiratory tract illnesses when there is a smoker in the home.
Our immune systems can also be negatively impacted by misuse of alcohol. Our human bodies are remarkably resilient and can tolerate small quantities of alcohol. Too much can have a detrimental effect on many organs and systems. It is important to keep our alcohol consumption within limits recommended by our health authorities. Binge drinking is never a good idea and should be avoided.
Enjoy the Light of Day
Good old-fashioned sunlight can have an uplifting, positive effect on your mood, which can, in turn, give a boost to your immune system. Exposure to sunlight is necessary for regulating our biological clocks. Adequate doses of sunlight influence our body’s systems, including our serotonin and melatonin levels, which are important in a healthy sleep cycle.
In addition to these beneficial effects on mental health and on body systems such as our immune systems, sunlight exposure also determines the level of vitamin D in our bodies. Science makes it clear that sunlight striking our skin can mediate the production of vitamin D in our bodies. A lack of sunlight leads to a deficiency of vitamin D, which is important for our overall wellness. A sufficient level of vitamin D from exposure to sunlight will help keep your immune system at its peak and functioning efficiently.
Nontraditional Immune Boosters
If boosting your immune system through nontraditional methods is something that appeals to you, try singing as a method of improving your immunity during flu season. Even if you sing off-key, singing may increase your body’s ability to boost your immune system. So, don’t shy away from singing in the shower in the mornings, and don’t be afraid to chime in while driving on your morning commute.
Like to laugh? There is an old saying that boasts laughter is the best medicine. Studies have shown that laughing increases antibody production and gets protective T-cells going inside our bodies. Taking time to laugh on a daily basis is a fun way to help your immune system stay strong.
When Flu Season Comes Knocking
Once you start feeling that little tickle in the back of your throat or the first sniffles of sinus congestion cuts into your day, it is too late: You probably have the flu. Symptoms can rear their ugly heads within one to four days after you’ve been exposed to the virus. If your body’s immune system is strong and functioning at full capability, chances are you’ll never even know that nasty flu virus came around looking for you.
If you do find yourself suffering from the flu this season, seek help from your primary care doctor or another medical facility as soon as possible. Early treatment can help get you back on your path to wellness a lot faster.