The Top 6 Strategies to Avoid Getting Sick this Fall and Winter
There is nothing like a flash snow storm in early October to remind us that cold and flu season is upon us! In the past few weeks, I have already begun to see patients with colds and flus; and if they aren’t coming in sick, they have family members or co-workers who are sick and are looking to prevent coming down with it.
Fortunately, there are a ton of great strategies for preventing colds and flus as well as naturopathic treatments that you do at home at the first sign of illness.
Here are my top 6 strategies to strengthen your immunity and avoid getting sick this Fall and Winter:
- Tweak the diet – by removing the foods that suppress immunity, and upping the game on those that boost immunity: avoid sugar and limit alcohol (these feed viruses and bacteria and lower your immune system); limit dairy products (as they promote congestion and mucus production); ensure high quality protein at every meal (the building blocks of our immune system); increase leafy green, citrus fruits, fresh or frozen berries, and garlic and onions (for vitamin C and other immune boosting nutrients as well as anti-microbial compounds). Lastly, focus on eating whole (non-processed) and warming foods – soups, stews, baked dishes, and warming spices (we all know this feels right in the Fall/Winter months, but it is actually explained by Traditional Chinese Medicine).
- Stay hydrated: I know it sounds simple, but is so important! Why? It keeps your mucus membranes healthy so that viruses and bacteria cannot get in. Rule of thumb: drink ½ your body weight in ounces of water per day (e.g. 160 lbs = 80 ounces = ten 8 ounce glasses or 2.5 L of water per day.
- Exercise: any form – walking, cycling, Pilates, strength training, sports, etc. – as it stimulates your immune system, decreases the release of stress hormones, and may flush viruses and bacteria from the respiratory tract. The goal is a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise a week. Keep in mind, overtraining can actually lower your immune system.
- Sleep: get adequate (7-8 hours/night) and good quality sleep. Sleep loss doesn’t just play a role in whether we catch a cold or flu, is also influences how we fight illnesses once we’ve caught them. Sometimes sleep loss is just a matter of habit and lifestyle; if you have the best of intentions but are still having trouble sleeping, consider booking an appointment. There are many gentle and natural treatments that can help you restore healthy sleep patterns.
- Manage stress: breath deeply, express yourself, connect with your friends and loved ones, exercise, make time for yourself, have hobbies, meditate, visualize, laugh. Lean on your social support network when needed. Sound easier than it is? Often patients need some extra support in this area while we get these healthy habits in place. I use clinical nutrition, herbs, acupuncture, and counseling to help my patients better manage their stress and decrease the negative effects of stress on the body – including on the immune system.
- Vitamin D: deficiency in vitamin D is associated with an increased susceptibility to colds and flus. Health Canada has found that 40% of Canadians are deficient in Vitamin D over the Winter months, which is why I almost always suggest supplementing with Vitamin D over the Winter to prevent deficiency (maintenance dosing).
These 5 strategies form the foundation of cold and flu prevention. Having these in place strengthens our body’s natural ability to respond to viruses and bacteria that are circulating during the cold and flu season.
Are you someone who feels like you catch everything going around and/or have a hard time fighting off infections? You may need extra support. As a Naturopathic Doctor, I prescribe individualized treatment plans to strengthen patients’ immune systems and help them recover quicker with the use of specific nutrients and supplementation, herbs, acupuncture, and homeopathics, among other therapies.
Interested in Naturopathic treatments that you can do at home at the first sign of illness? Stay tuned for my the next installment – to find out about warming (or magic) socks, steam inhalation, and get my recipes for spicy immune boosting tea and home made cough syrup!