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Boosting Your Immunity This Fall “Steps You Can Take to Put Your Best Immune System Forward”

Cold and flu season is upon us. We wash our hands, try not to touch our faces, wear our masks at the grocery store, and stand 6 feet apart from others. Is there anything else we can do to protect ourselves and our families? Why yes! Staying healthy involves more than just reducing contamination. Pursuing a healthy lifestyle is one of the primary ways that we can support our bodies through cold and flu season. Taking a good hard look at our diets, exercise habits, quality of sleep and how we manage stress can be one of the most beneficial things we can do to stay safe this year.  

Firstly, diet. There is evidence to support the fact that micronutrient deficiencies can lead to a less effective immune response. For example, zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid and vitamins A, B6, C and E can all contribute to your body’s ability to fight viruses.  Most of these micronutrients are found in the food we eat. A good rule of thumb is the more colorful your plate, the more vitamins you will be ingesting. Leafy greens, like spinach and kale, contain vitamin C and E, as well as zinc and iron. If you are not a fan of these two greens raw, try adding them to a pot of soup, to make them more palatable.  In the winter months, particularly in Seattle when it is so overcast, adding a Vitamin D supplement can be helpful. Consult your primary care provider, on whether to take a supplement and what dosage to take. 

In addition to diet, regularly getting your heart pumping is another great way to protect your immune system and to fight infections. This happens for a couple of reasons. Obvious outcomes include, lower body weight, increased cardiovascular health, and less co-morbidities associated with lack of exercise. However, scientists also think that the increase in blood circulation from being active can help the body’s immune response by allowing cells to move through the body more freely; and therefore, do their job better. Exercise also releases endorphins allowing for the discharging of tension that is held in the body.  

Which leads us to our next point, stress. It is not difficult to understand the potential correlation between stress and immunity. One needs only to think back to a recent difficult season of life to recall how easy it is to pick up an illness when you are running on empty. Indeed, the time in which we are living has not helped to ease our anxiety. Covid-19 has made normal activity unusually stressful. Thankfully, we can manage our emotions and temper the effects of stress. One way to combat stress is to practice meditation and mindfulness. Mindfulness is as simple as focusing on the task at hand and nothing else. For example, try practicing mindfulness while washing the dishes. Focus on tangible things to bring you into the moment. How does the soap and warm water feel on your hands? What smells do you observe? What do you see? After using mindfulness techniques, you may find that washing dishes is actually quite pleasant and that some stress has dissolved in the process. 

Finally, sleep and our natural circadian rhythm are intrinsically linked to immune function. While scientists are still exploring all the ways in which the two effect each other, one thing that is certain is that there is a strong correlation between our periods of rest and immunity. One of the main ways that sleep affects our bodies is in the creation of cytokines. Cytokines are a kind of protein that help to prevent infection and inflammation. When you sleep, cytokines are both made and released. Therefore, if you are not getting adequate rest, your body will have less cytokines and be less effective at preventing infection. Some studies even suggest that chronic sleep deprivation actually makes the flu vaccine less effective because your body is not able to respond to the neutralized virus effectively and produce antibodies. What better excuse do you have to catch some extra z’s? 

As you can see, immunity is more than just grabbing a few supplements from the grocery store. It involves a more holistic approach and lifestyle adjustments. Thankfully it really can be as simple as adding in an evening walk, eating more leafy greens, or going to bed an hour earlier on a consistent basis. Be encouraged that every little change adds up and can lead to better health and overall better protection this cold and flu season.

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