Winter can be a beautiful season: frost sparkling on twigs and branches and even those of us who dread getting out and about in it have to admit there is nothing quite as magical as freshly fallen snow. But it is a time of year when we are more likely to pick up colds, viruses and flu. So, what can we do to give ourselves the best chance to avoid picking up infections so common at this time of year? I am guessing you probably do most of these already but sometimes a timely reminder can be helpful. Eight ways to stay well in winter…
1 At the risk of sounding obvious (or like your mother!) washing hands thoroughly and regularly is one of the best ways of preventing infection. Remember to wash your hands after visiting places with a high volume of people passing through like the supermarket or public transport. When you are out and about try to avoid touching your face, rubbing eyes and especially biting nails as any bacteria on them will be transferred to your skin or mouth. Mobile phones, keyboards and iPads should also be cleaned regularly. Just think where you take them!
2 Our body’s immune response fights off infection. Like many bodily functions that go on without us being aware of them it is complex and impressive. To function optimally our immune system needs vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin E, B6, folic acid and zinc. A healthy diet should provide you with all of these, or if you feel you might be low on some vitamins you might choose to take a multi nutrient supplement. Getting the balance of vitamins and minerals correct is important and it is worth consulting a nutritionist or dietician who can give you professional advice tailored to your specific needs.
3 Stress raises our cortisol levels and high cortisol levels supress the immune system. Use all your own favourite (healthy!) ways to unwind and try to include exercise out of doors. This need not be strenuous but is particularly beneficial if taken in nature, the park, woods or by the sea.
4 We are constantly being told about the next new ‘superfood’, but as with everything in life balance is key. Raw garlic has been known for centuries as an effective killer of bacteria and viruses. Mushrooms, particularly Shitake mushrooms, have immune boosting properties. These ingredients can be found in most supermarkets and can be easily incorporated into the diet.
5 There are many essential oils such as Thyme, Eucalyptus, Ravensara and Pine that are helpful against respiratory infections.The essential oils we extract from plants are full of active chemical compounds that the plants themselves use as a defence against bacteria and viruses. If you feel like you are coming down with a cold try using a pre-mixed blend of essential oils such as Micheline Arcier’s ‘Vigeur’ in the bath or two drops of essential oil in a carrier oil such as sunflower seed oil applied to the upper chest area. It may be enough to prevent the illness from taking hold. A few drops in a bath is also a great way of warming you up if have been outdoors and become very cold.
6 Soluble fibre in the diet has been shown to boost production of a protein called interleukin-4, that stimulates the body’s infection fighting T cells. It also has an anti-inflammatory action so may help achy winter joints. Some sources of soluble fibre include oats, carrots, strawberries, blueberries, apples, nuts, seeds, lentils, barley and citrus fruits. Whoever coined the phrase “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” clearly knew what they were talking about!
7 Negative thoughts supress the immune system so If you tend to feel a bit ‘low’ during the winter months try to include gentle exercise outdoors once a day to get your daily dose of natural light. Whether it is meeting friends for a coffee, watching a film, reading a book or meditating, discover what works best to keep you positive and make sure you are getting enough Omega 3 in your diet.
8 Our microbiome or microbiota is the trillions of microbes that live on and in us and is as unique to us as our fingerprint. This is a fascinating topic that I cannot possibly cover in a few lines but the reason I mention it here is that scientists are discovering more and more about how it contributes our health. Our gut microbiome greatly influences our immune system. It appears a healthy digestive system is the foundation to our overall health. So, look after your digestive system and you might find it will keep you well all winter.