Recently exposed to COVID-19 and playing it safe by monitoring my symptoms + testing daily was just the reminder I needed that we're headed into the season of cold, flu, and other virus/bacterial diseases. As the weather chills, we spend more time indoors, and are more likely to be exposed to a variety of illnesses that might simply just give us a head cold or might keep us off our feet for a week or more.
Keep reading for my quick tips to keep your immune system strong as we head into this year's season of runny + raw noses. This two-part series first focuses on external factors. Part Two will be headed to you two weeks from now and will focus on the internal (food + nutrition) influences on your immune system strength. I'll discuss the importance of specific nutrients and the foods that are high in those nutrients rather than specific supplements - check out why I do that here.
I picture our immune system as an army of germs that protect our body from invaders. This army is only as strong as your daily + weekly habits support it. They are the first line of defense that attack a yucky germ when it enters your body; surrounding it and, hopefully, demolishing or breaking it apart into smaller pieces that are even more easily beaten. (An over simplification, but a fun image to picture, right?)
So what are these daily + weekly habits that naturally boost our immune system, ensuring the army members are ready for combat at any moment. Per usual, we'll start with external, or environmental factors, this week before digging into the internal factors in my next post.
You guessed it, one of my favorite things and a component of the eMpower approach. Movement is important for immune system strength - just like rest is as well (check out the sleep section). Movement, particularly the kind that elevates your heart rate + increases internal body temperature, helps to strengthen white blood cells, can shake up and flush out germs, and helps reduce stress (another factor to immune system health). The white blood cell piece is pretty cool, actually. White blood cells are like the commanders of the immune system army. They circulate the body more rapidly and can help to sound the alarm if they notice any germs allowing for a speedy attack.
sleep quality + quantity
Yes, you read that right. Your sleep habits - bedtime routine, falling asleep, what happens while you're asleep, and morning routine - can all influence the strength of your immune system. Have you ever noticed the sniffles come on after a few nights of not great sleep? Maybe you were tossing and turning or unable to fall asleep because of a big project with a looming deadline?
This reduced sleep (both quality + quantity) can weaken your immune system. This increases your susceptibility to getting sick and can increase the duration + intensity of the illness. Already sick? It's probably the last thing you want to do, but sleeping when sick can be a great help for your immune system. This way your little army can focus on fighting off the intruder and not worry about anything else to fight off.
Sleep can also support the memory of your immune system army. Have you ever gotten the same sickness twice and the second round wasn't nearly has bad as the first? This is thanks to your immune system's memory and its ability to more efficiently fight off a disease the second time around. This certainly isn't the case with all viral/bacterial infections.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know that stress isn't great for many things and certainly long-term stress isn't great for the strength of your immune system. Remember how movement can help to strengthen our white blood cells? Well, prolonged stress can work to weaken this army of commanders. Incorporating mindfulness practices into your week and helping to manage your stress levels is really important for the vitality of your immune system. Curious about adding mindfulness into your daily + weekly habits? Start your 21-Day Mindfulness Challenge today and feel the benefits soon!
Some other tips to keep in mind:
Wash your hands!
Seems like a silly reminder, but it's become clear that many people just don't.
Cover your mouth
Whether it's with a face mask because you're not feeling great or with the crease of your elbow - cover your sneezes, coughs, etc. and aim to immediately wash your hands (or at least use a hand sanitizer until a sink with soap + water is available to you).
Don't share food, drinks, chapsticks, etc.
Maybe another no-brainer, but sharing items like this simply increase the chances of spreading germs; not something we want to share.
Stay tuned for Part Two coming soon!