Top Tips for Staying Well Over Winter
Colds and flu are more common in the winter months, partly due to the fact that we spend more time indoors in close contact with others, but getting sick isn’t an inevitable part of winter. In fact paying a bit of extra attention to your lifestyle habits can go a long way towards boosting your immune system and staying well.
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is important for general health and wellbeing but there are a few nutrients that are particularly important when it comes to our immune system. Making sure you are getting enough of these nutrients over winter may help to reduce the risk of getting sick and improve recovery if you do.
- Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, kiwifruit, berries, capsicum, tomato, broccoli and spinach
- Zinc is found in fish, seafood, lean meat & poultry, legumes, wholegrains, nuts & seed, and dairy foods like milk, yoghurt & cheese
- Vitamin A is found in yellow-orange and dark green vegetables such as carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato and spinach
- Vitamin D is found in fatty fish, eggs and dairy foods. However most of our vitamin D comes from the action of sunlight on our skin so getting out for a walk at lunchtime during the colder months can help to maintain vitamin D levels. If you are unable to get outside regularly you may need a supplement but speak to your GP about having your levels checked
Exercise has many health benefits, including boosting your immune system. Research has shown that people who do regular moderate intensity exercise can reduce their risk of developing a cold by around 50% and if they do get sick, the symptoms are less severe. The effects are cumulative – in other words, the longer you have been in a regular exercise routine, the more beneficial.
Moderate intensity exercise also gives the best results, while very high intensity exercise, which can be a stress on the body, can temporarily reduce your immune system. Research shows that more than 90 minutes of high-intensity endurance exercise (eg training for a marathon or triathlon) can make athletes susceptible to illness for up to 72 hours after the exercise session. So if you like to train hard, be mindful of taking other steps to keep well (plenty of sleep and rest and an immune-boosting diet) after your event or heavy training sessions.
Get adequate sleep
Poor sleeping patterns or lack of sleep can have a negative effect on your immune system, making you more susceptible to getting sick. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that those who slept less than 7 hours per night were three times more likely to develop a cold compared to those who slept 8 hours or more.
If you have trouble sleeping, put some strategies in place to help such as avoiding screen time (TV, computers or phones) for at least an hour before bedtime, listening to relaxing music, having a warm bath or shower, and trying a warm milk drink before bed. Going to bed and getting up at around the same time each day also helps.
Practice good hygiene
Cold and flu viruses are highly contagious but you can reduce your risk of passing on your germs or being infected by others if you:
- avoid close contact with others (at least 1 metre apart) if you or they are ill, including shaking hands
- cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing, and turn away from other people
- wash your hands regularly, particularly after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose, after being in contact with anyone who is unwell, and before touching your face, mouth or nose and especially before preparing or eating food
To find out more about reducing your risk of the flu visit FluSmart.