Warding off Winter Bugs with nutrition & exercise

As we head into the NZ flu season, it’s important to keep our bodies healthy and immune systems strong to enable us to fight off colds and flus more effectively. 

Some of us may not be able to avoid catching the bugs, but the healthier we are the quicker we can recover.  

The following compromise our immune system and make it more susceptible to illness:

  • Stress
  • Overtraining
  • Incomplete nutrition (skipping food groups and key nutrients)
  • Sugar and refined carbohydrates
  • Being wet and cold
  • Not enough rest
  • Toxins
  • Other illnesses (eg, a poorly managed cold can lead to pneumonia)  

Use these following tips to boost your immune system and not only will you feel generally healthier, but you will be able to ward off some viruses and recover quicker from others.

  1. Exercise daily for at least 30-60 minutes if you can. Regular moderate intensity exercise of this duration helps to release an antioxidant called superoxide dismutase. This helps to combat against free radicals.
  2. Avoid overtraining or take a training break if in an over-reached state. Over-reaching is the point before overtraining. Signs of over-reaching include fatigue, respiratory infections, low moods, decreased performance, slow progress, increased resting heart rate, poor sleep, amenorrhea. If you are in this state then a training break is advised as overtraining can compromise your immunity and mid term health.
  3. Complete nutrition. Ensure that all food groups are covered on a daily basis. Fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, essential fatty acids and small amounts of unrefined grains and dairy. Antioxidants are present in foods like Kiwifruit, brazil nuts, carrots, egg yolk, oily fish and spinach. All the main antioxidants (A, C and E) are fat soluble, so make sure you don’t cut all the fat out of your diet. Red meat contains Iron, Vitamin B12 and Zinc which are also important for healthy blood and immunity. B Vitamins and Folic Acid also provide immune support and help with energy and stress levels so that we can partake in exercise and go about our day with a calm clear headspace, which all add to supporting our immune systems. Dosing up on Vitamin C supplementation has been useful for some people – 1000mg-3000mg daily.
  4. Increase protein intake. Protein is a good immune booster and increasing your daily intake of protein gives your body the raw materials it needs to strengthen immunity as our immune system cells replicate rapidly. Glutamine in particular is a great immune booster which is found in proteins. You can also supplement with 1tsp a day. Glutamine also helps with exercise recovery.
  5. Consume essential fatty acids daily. The best sources of EFA’s are flaxseed oil and fish oil. These fatty acids cannot be made by our bodies, yet are crucial to the structure of our cell membranes. A nice strong cell membrane helps to ward off any nasties from getting inside. These fats also have anti-inflammatory properties, and anything that reduces inflammation, also reduces the incidence of disease on the tissue.  Cold pressed olive oil, grass fed raw butter and undeoderised coconut oil are also fantastic fats to eat and round out the required fat consumption for a human being nicely.
  6. Echinacea and garlic can help to strengthen the immune system and lessen the severity of illness – but that all depends on you... If you’re overtraining and eating poorly then these are unlikely to show any clear result.
  7. Regular and proper rest. 8 hours is the gold standard, but everyone is different. Provided you are going through the whole sleep cycle (stage 1 – 5) then your body is getting the rest it needs. Among other functions, our bodies physiologically repair themselves while we sleep and lack of sleep has been shown to depress the immune system.
  8. Reduce Stress. Stress increases stress hormones (adrenalin / cortisol are the two you are familiar with).  Increases in these suppress aspects of immune function. Make sure that you are dealing with stressors in a constructive fashion and seek help if you have to. Laughter is the best medicine, so this winter make sure you indulge in lots of comedy and laughter and gossip with friends. Try things like massage, yoga, meditation, pilates, hypnosis, holidays, gardening, knitting, spas, saunas and bubble baths to help relieve stress. And of course, nothing beats stress like a little fun in the bedroom.
  9. Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates. Winter seems to be when we tend to comfort eat more, but the sugary, starchy comforting treats puts more stress on our bodies and compromises our immunity. Sugar affects the distribution of vitamin C in the body, affects the production of antibodies and white blood cell function. How often do people come back from Easter with a cold? How many people do you know get sick around Christmas and New Years? It’s a good idea to rethink those litres of orange juice, cup-a-soups and toast.
  10. Stay dry and warm. Rug up straight after exercising and don’t stay in sweaty clothes too long. As the temperature drops then your wet clothes amplify the drop in temperature to your body.  Is your house damp? Investing in a dehumidifier will certainly help keep you and your family healthy.  Keep that mould under control in your home.  Which brings us to.....
  11. Minimise toxins. Smoking, alcohol, excessive coffee and other environmental toxins (like mould and chemical sprays) produce free radicals which seek out and destroy healthy cell membranes, which also puts our immune system under attack.   Stay sensible this winter. Always wash your hands after going to the bathroom and touching public surfaces before eating and make sure you cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing. Many of us are reluctant to take days off work if we’re sick, but that’s what sick days are for. Resting encourages a faster recovery and helps to prevent nasty bacterial complications from viruses. Your colleagues and customers probably don’t want to catch your germs either so make sure you rug up at home to prevent the spread.