It's that time of year.. when everyone around you is sniffling, coughing, blowing their nose.. It seems inevitable that one of those nasty bugs is going to get you next, but that doesn't have to be the case! There is a lot you can do to stave off those viruses, or at least get rid of them fast.
I see dozens of patients with colds each day during this season. All of them want to feel better ASAP and get back to their busy lives. They ask me my secret for not getting sick while seeing so many sick patients. Well, aside from the immunity I get from being exposed to all those viruses (thanks patients!), I take extra steps during cold season to keep my immune system running optimally. Here are my favorite tips:
Get a good night's sleep
This seems like common sense, but is easier said than done with our hectic lives. Especially during the holidays and in the new year, we all tend to have more on our plate and may compromise our full 8 hours for things like wrapping gifts, going to holiday parties, and traveling. But routinely not getting enough sleep will add up and have a detrimental effect on your mood, metabolism, and immune system! So set an alarm for a half hour before bedtime to start your wind down routine and hit the sheets in time to get at least 7 hours of sleep. If you're fighting a cold already, your body may require even more sleep than usual. If you feel tired at 8pm, don't fight it! Your body is telling you to conserve energy so it can put all efforts into fighting that pesky invader.
Stay active, but don't overdo it
Regular exercise is good for every aspect of life, but too much of a good thing can actually increase stress on your body. Stick to light to moderate-exertion activities that make you feel good and give you more energy, rather than tapping you out. Limit heavy exertion to under a half hour at a time to keep your body from going into stress mode. If you're feeling too tired to exercise though, skip it.
Physical, mental, and emotional stress will decrease your immune system and make you more prone to getting sick. Taking just a few minutes a day to clear your mind and breathe deeply can make your immune system stronger! It seems like a no-brainer, right? Meditation can be a daunting activity but you don't have to be a professional to reap the benefits. Just close your eyes and focus on your breath for one slow deep inhalation and exhalation. You feel better already, don't you? Just one mindful breath can shift your mindset to the present and ease anxiety. There are also excellent phone apps for guided meditation, such as Headspace, that will walk you through a quick easy practice. (Hint: doing this before bed will help you wind down and fall asleep)
This means staying well hydrated and eating good quality, nutrient-dense food. It's easy to fall into the trap of comfort foods when it's cold out because, well, they're comforting! But that feel-good effect is very temporary if your body isn't getting the nutrients it needs. Your food can actually make you more susceptible to getting sick if it's full of simple carbohydrates that are inflammatory such as white breads, pasta, and sweets. Instead, make warm hearty meals such as stews, soups, and casseroles filled with vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. You can also give yourself an extra boost in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and an assortment of phytonutrients by drinking fresh made vegetable and fruit juice or smoothies. Below I'll give you the recipe for my favorite go-to smoothie thats packed full of immune boosting foods and keeps the fiber in there to level out your blood sugar (so you won't be starving in an hour and reaching for the holiday cookies!)
Certain foods are especially helpful in boosting your immune system. Ginger, garlic, fresh herbs and spices are packed full of anti-oxidants and have antimicrobial properties so they'll actually help kill off viruses and bacteria! If you feel a cold coming on, make yourself a soothing hot tea remedy by adding lemon, honey, and slices of fresh garlic and ginger to your favorite herbal tea. Breathing the steam will help soothe sinus congestion too. Probiotics are also great for staying healthy. Your gut is actually a big part of your immune system, so keeping an ideal balance of flora is key. You can take a probiotic pill daily and/or eat fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, and kefir. There are also some great products at your local health food store to make it easy to get these superfoods. One of my favorites that I recently learned about is Kung Fu Tonic. It's got a real kick and is full of ingredients that will "hi-yah" whatever ails you.
Vitamins and minerals are best absorbed when consumed in whole foods, but sometimes we need to supplement to get our full requirement. A whole food-based multivitamin is a good way to ensure you're getting your basic needs. Other vitamins that are necessary for optimal immune function include vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin D, and zinc. Note: Vitamin A should be avoided if you are or may become pregnant. The above can be taken in higher dose for 5 days at the first sign of a cold to help give your immune system a big boost. Vitamin D3 can be taken throughout the winter months, especially if you live in a colder climate and don't get much sun during this time of the year. I usually recommend taking 2-3,000IU of Vitamin D3 during this time, but you may even require higher amounts if your vitamin D level is low so getting your level checked might be a good idea.
Immune Boosting Green Smoothie
1-2 handfuls of greens (I like using baby kale or spinach)
1 cup of filtered water or nut milk
half medium cucumber, or whole Persian cucumber
1 small bunch of fresh parsley
peeled knob of ginger about half inch
half cup of blueberries, fresh or frozen
squeeze of half a lemon
1 sprinkle each of cinnamon, turmeric, and black pepper (optional)
Blend it all up in a high-speed blender and enjoy. If you're drinking it as a meal, I recommend adding protein powder or collagen powder and some healthy fat to keep you satisfied longer. A tablespoon or two of almond butter, a small handful of walnuts, or half an avocado work well for this.