Cold and flu season is officially upon us, and when you pair all those germs with a poor diet, you’re creating the perfect situation to get sick. Click on through to see what you’re doing daily that’s wrecking your immune system and how to remedy the situation—stat.
Your body needs rest to heal and generate properly. When you cut your snoozing time short, you’re lowering your immune system and the number of protective “killer” cells that fight infections. If you find that you’re waking up tired it may be a sign that you’re not sleeping enough or getting quality shut eye.
The Fix: Aim to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night. If you have several events to attend, try to grab a catnap if possible or prioritize your events.
A poor diet is a common occurrence during the holiday season. There’s a good chance you’ll be faced with a number of office parties, friend get-togethers, and family gatherings. But if you consume too much alcohol, fats, and sugars at these events, your immune system can become compromised by reducing the effectiveness of white blood cells. Foods high in sugar can lower the ability of white blood cells to kill germs, starting about 30 minutes post-ingestion and lasting as long as five hours. Excess alcohol will make your liver work harder to detoxify your blood, ultimately robbing your immune system of precious nutrients to fight off bacteria. Consuming three or more alcoholic drinks are enough to do just that. And lastly, fat lowers your antibody production and can cause a slow reaction to an infected area.
The Fix: Before arriving at the party, eat a balanced meal or snack. This will keep you from attacking the buffet and digging in to foods you might not normally eat. Look for vegetable platters with hummus or salsa, salads without creamy dressings and lean proteins like chicken skewers and shrimp cocktails are great to add to your plate, too. For dessert, try fruit and if you need a cocktail go for a wine spritzer with ice and seltzer, or sip vodka with seltzer and lime. It’s fine to put a small portion of a treat or two on your place, just make sure it’s surrounded by healthy foods.
You may be sticking to your workout routine this season to stay in shape, but the gym is one of the worst places for germs and bacteria to linger. Have you ever witnessed someone sneezing and then picking up the dumbbells or watched someone cough into their hand and then push the button at the water fountain? Behaviors like these are gross, but they’re common.
The Fix: Keep antibacterial wipes or hand sanitizing gel in your gym bag for a backup. Keep your hands away from your face, eyes and mouth. Wash your hands as much as possible, especially before you leave the gym. If you wear weight-training gloves make sure to toss them in the washer every couple of days. If you should happen to cut yourself while training make sure to wash your hands first and then treat the wound effectively. Staph infections are also not uncommon in the gym.
Many of us feel the need to step up our workouts during the holidays to counteract overindulging during parties. While it’s important to stick with your workouts throughout the holiday season, overtraining will exhaust your body, increase your risk of injury, and weaken your immune system.
The Fix: Keep up your regular workouts, as this will strengthen your immune system and release positive endorphins to help combat stress. Supplementing with glutamine is also a great idea, since glutamine stores can easily be depleted during overtraining as well. Add ½ to 1 teaspoon in your post-workout shake to boost immunity and keep your gut functioning properly.
Many partygoers like to have a cigarette when they’re at a social gathering with cocktails, or partake in the occasional cigar at a festive event. The problem is that both firsthand and secondhand smoke can directly contribute to upper respiratory infections, especially during cold and flu season. Cigarette/cigar smoke will tax your immune system and can cause a host of other illnesses.
The Fix: Avoid smoking and being around smokers as much as possible. This isn’t one of those “it’s okay in moderation” situations. An occasional cigarette/cigar will still cause damage to your entire body.
With so many social events and obligations around the holidays it’s easy to blow off your gym sessions. This could be the worst thing you can do for your immune system.
The Fix: While there may be times when you have to skip your workout to run errands, shop for gifts, decorate, or tackle end-of-the-year deadlines, don’t make it a regular habit during the holidays. Exercise will help you prevent holiday weight gain, keep your immune operating at peak performance and help you handle seasonal stressors in a healthy way. Look at your schedule for the week and plan workouts accordingly. If you have an evening event, plan to hit the gym before work.
Checking exercise off your to-do list in the morning can help boost your metabolism all day, make you feel more confident, and help you make healthier food decisions.
If you go to work when it’s dark in the morning, work out in the gym, and return home in the evening when it’s dark, the lack of sunlight during November and December can lead to a vitamin Ddeficiency and possibly spiral into seasonal affective disorder (SAD) depression symptoms as well.
The Fix: Take a walk during the day and get some sunlight on your face to help your body produce more vitamin D from the sun. Even though you won’t get vitamins from this, you may also find it helpful to stand by a sunny window and meditate for a bit. Feel the warmth and let it recharge your battery. You may want to supplement with vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol). Include foods higher in vitamin D3, such as, oranges, egg yolks, fatty fish and low fat cheese to name a few. Here’s more information about how vitamin D can help your health and your training.
Even though commercials, movies, and songs tell us we’re supposed to be in the best spirits during the holidays, it’s common for many people to feel depressed this time of year. Whether it’s due to a demanding schedule, spending time with loved ones who test your patience, financial worries, or even being away from your family, it’s okay to feel a little blue during this time of year. Depression can negatively affect the entire body due to the increase in stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. When these hormones are increased, it causes a drastic decrease in the body’s ability to repair itself—leading to a weakened immune system.
The Fix: Let some close friends know if you don’t have plans during the holidays and ask if they wouldn’t mind if you spent time with them. If that’s not an option, volunteer at a local soup kitchen, senior center, or church. There are many underprivileged people that would love company during the holidays. Remember that the holidays are about giving, not receiving, and it’ll give you warm and fuzzy feelings knowing you made someone’s day. A study published by the Journal of Gorgan University of Medical Science indicated that social support can balance the negative effects of stress on the immune system.
The most important remedy of all during the holidays is smile and laugh. Laughter releases endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers. Don’t take yourself too seriously. When you’re starting to feel stressed or anxious, stop what you’re doing and take a few deep breaths. Just five minutes of meditation has been show to reduce stress and calm nerves.
BY LINDA STEPHENS, RD