A mild headache that just won’t go away, a box of tissues by the bed, and sleeping uncomfortably with your mouth wide open… It’s that time of year again: flu and cold season. Everyone can agree that the above situations are undeniably unpleasant.
Though catching a cold during this time of year may seem unavoidable, there are steps you can take to fortify your immune system and lessen your vulnerability. Read on for three top-tier tips.
Establish a regular sleep routine
A good night’s sleep is essential to health and immunity at any time of year, but it’s especially important when you are feeling under the weather. Have you ever fallen ill after partying all weekend? Well, in those cases, it’s safe to rule out coincidence.
Scientific evidence supports the wisdom of prioritizing sleep over other activities; for example, a study involving 153 men and women found that those who had shorter sleep duration in the weeks preceding exposure to a rhinovirus (fancy talk for a cold) were more susceptible to the virus.
According to the study, your chances of getting a cold increase if you get less than seven hours of sleep per night (which also increases your risk for cardiovascular illnesses).
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to maintaining a consistent sleeping schedule, but these sleep tips from Olympians should help you get back on track.
Don’t skip your vitamin C
This is tried and true advice, but it’s still good to be reminded: Get enough vitamin C.
So, why does vitamin C play such a crucial role in boosting the immune system? Vitamin C promotes the generation of Lymphocytes2, a type of white blood cell that helps fight off infections caused by bacteria and viruses.
Vitamin C also aids in the “eating” and destruction of harmful microbes by neutrophils3, another type of white blood cell. To sum it up, vitamin C serves vital purposes in the body, particularly when it comes to maintaining a healthy immune system. This means that it’s important to get enough vitamin C on a regular basis—not just once you’re already sick.
The best way to make sure you’re getting the recommended daily amount of vitamin C if you don’t want to keep track of what you eat is to take a supplement.
Keep stress to a minimum
It’s not easy to simply “stop” stressing, regardless of whether your main source of stress is your job, your relationships, your finances, or whatever else. However, there are some activities that have been shown to help alleviate some of that stress, which is actually crucial for maintaining a healthy immune system that can effectively fight off colds.
Stress suppresses your immune response because it causes your body to produce the hormone cortisol, physician Heather Moday, M.D. explained to mindbodygreen. “Cortisol itself interferes with the ability of specific white blood cells called T-cells to proliferate and get signals from the body,” she said. “In addition, cortisol also lowers an important antibody called secretory IgA, which lines the respiratory tract and gut and is our first line of defense against invading pathogens.”
How then can you break the pattern? A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine suggests that meditation raises levels of IgA, the same antibodies that cortisol suppresses.
If meditation isn’t your thing, don’t worry! There are many other stress-relieving activities you can incorporate into your daily life such as snuggling your pet, exercising, and tapping into your creative side.