Help your body beat cold and flu season naturally with these five lifestyle tips to boost your immune system from Dr. Susanne Bennett, contributing holistic health editor for Natural Child World Magazine.
1. Get some sun
"Even on cloudy days, the sun is working its magic," Dr. Bennett says. "Safe levels of daily sun exposure trigger your body to produce adequate vitamin D levels, which jump-start your immune system and protect you from respiratory infections." You can also take vitamin D supplements when you're not able to absorb as much sun as you need. It's difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone. With adequate levels, the vitamin produces cathelicidin, a protein that fights viruses and bacteria.
2. Be active
Getting the body moving for at least 20 minutes a day stimulates production of immune cells that fight off infections. Dr. Bennett recommends you take your dog for a walk, join a fitness class, or just kick around a soccer ball with your kids.
Another activity that helps your immune system on multiple levels is regular sex. Sex not only keeps your immune cells stimulated, but also reduces stress, helps you sleep and gives you an immunity boost through higher production of the antibody immunoglobulin A. These antibodies can combat disease and prevent cold and flu all on their own.
Adults need at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, while children over five years old need a minimum of 10. For infants and toddlers, at least 12 hours of sleep a night is recommended. "This allows the body to replenish nutrients and provide building blocks for tissue rejuvenation and development," Dr. Bennett says. Lack of sleep diminishes your immune system, which causes mental deterioration and body fatigue.
4. Improve your diet
Eat plenty of foods that are high in antioxidants. "Eat at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables each day," Dr. Bennett says. "The more colorful the better." Eating more leafy greens and yellow and orange fruits and vegetables can be great for boosting your immune system. Even if you can't afford much fresh produce, frozen or dried fruits and vegetables can improve your immune system. Frozen peaches are a great choice, since they're even higher than oranges in vitamin C.
Reduce your sugar intake. Sugar is a favorite meal for viruses, bacteria and yeast, according to Dr. Bennett.
Reduce your consumption of dairy foods such as milk, cheese and sour cream. Dairy can increase mucous production and nasal congestion, which can become a breeding ground for germs, she says. Drink more water, try for at least 64 ounces per day, to help your body's cellular function.
Spicing up your diet with red and green chile peppers and hot sauces that are rich in vitamins A and C are also great choices.
5. Minimize your stress
Studies show that chronic stress reduces your immune strength over time. The stress-induced hormone cortisol can batter your immunity. Taking a few extra moments to mellow out each day can help build a healthy body and mind. Hanging out with friends, keeping social or even venting to a diary are all good ways of reducing stress and thus helping your immune system. Decreasing your stress with adrenal-boosting foods can also help.
Already have the flu or a nasty cold? Try Dr. Bennett's natural remedies for flu treatment.
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