Judging by the recent drop in temperature, winter has well and truly kicked in, bringing with it the return of cold and flu season.
Seasonal sickness often means taking time off from work, having to cancel social commitments and this is usually made worse when we are trying to run a home and look after children. In a nutshell feeling under the weather is just darn inconvenient.
In a bid to flu-proof ourselves we hit the health food shop to stock up on a
concoction of immune-boosting supplements. Surprisingly there is little scientific evidence to support the claim that supplements strengthen the immune system to the point where they protect us from infection and disease. However, if you feel that you are low in any vitamins and minerals due to age, poor diet or health issues then supplementation is recommended.
If you are on a quest to fight the flu this winter, try applying these simple changes to your lifestyle and you may manage to avoid catching whatever bug happens to be doing the rounds.
A poor diet can affect the overall function of our bodily systems. Lack of vitamins and minerals, alcohol, processed foods or malnutrition can all be contributing factors to a poorly functioning immune system.
What can you do?
A healthy balanced diet should provide you with all of the vitamins and minerals you need so be sure to include a wide variety of nutritious, unprocessed foods in your diet. In addition to this try not to go for long periods without eating as this could make you more vulnerable to infection.
Exercise helps to improve circulation, which allows immune cells to move through the body. This gives them a better chance of being where they need to be to do their job of fighting off potential infection. Exercise is also an effective stress-buster and working your body is a great way to rest your mind.
What can you do?
Aim to do a little something every day to keep active; walking, cycling, yoga, lifting weights - whatever gets the body moving and the blood pumping.
Mind the closing doors
One of the worst places to pick up unwanted germs is on public transport or other environments where we are in close proximity to others. During warm weather we like to walk, we enjoy alfresco dining and generally spending time outdoors. However, as soon as the cold weather kicks in we huddle, shoulder to shoulder, onto buses and trains, sharing our germs around. We also spend more time visiting indoor shopping centres, going to the cinema and tucking ourselves away in cosy warm pubs and restaurants.
What can you do?
Many health experts believe that the reason we are prone to colds in the winter is not necessary due to the cold weather but because we spend more time indoors with other people and their germs. Wrap up warm and walk instead of taking the tube or bus. You’ll avoid those carrying germs, and walking will of course boost your circulation at the same time which will help fight anything off.
Manage stress and take time out
When we are stressed or if we are over doing it we expend energy which leaves little left for fighting off any underlying infection. During times of stress our body releases stress-hormones including Adrenaline and Cortisol. Following a rush of Adrenaline we experience a 'crash' leaving us without the strength to fight off germs. Over time Cortisol suppresses the immune system also making us prone to infection. To make matters worse, when stress makes us unwell we are often forced to take time off work. This usually increases our workload for when we return, and as a result of this our stress levels raise; thus creating a vicious circle.
What can you do?
Sometimes stressful situations are unavoidable. If you are unable to remove a stressor, apply some coping skills and learn to manage stress levels. Learning to recognise what contributing factors may be causing stress and addressing these triggers is a good start. Try to take time out of busy schedules to relax and recharge, and seek support from those around you wherever you can.
When we sleep we relax and the body is able to restore itself and repair. During this time we also release substances in the shape of proteins, hormones and chemicals and these all help us fight disease. When we don't get enough sleep the antibodies which help to fight infection are reduced.
What can you do?
Aim to get 7-8 hours sleep and try to encourage 9-11 hours with children and teens. Technology plays a big part in disturbing sleeping patterns, and the more we are distracted by our laptops and mobile phones the harder it is to switch off the brain. These devices also disrupt the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps us sleep, particularly in teenagers. For this reason, experts recommend we shut down devices two hours before bed. Foods high in sugar, caffeine and alcohol can also keep us up so try to avoid these in the evening too. Instead create a bed-time ritual where you give yourself time to 'wind down'. Make a warm bedtime drink, take a bath, read a book, what ever it takes to send you off to sleep; and try to wait until morning to check your phone!
During winter months the central heating goes on everywhere which is like Christmas for many kinds of bacteria. Breeding germs like to stick around indoors, clinging to a variety of surfaces just waiting to be handled; door knobs, pens, card machines, money; and then these germ infested items are touched by one pair of hands, only to be passed on to another poor soul.
What can you do? Germs can enter the body through the mouth, nose and eyes so try to avoid eating with your hands or touching your face before you have washed your hands. Soap and water is the best way to clean your hands.. For optimum cleaning we should wash our hands for the same amount of time it takes to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice. Hand sanitiser gels aren't quite as effective as washing but can help to reduce some germs. If you use a gel, make sure it is at least 60% alcohol. If you know someone who is suffering with a cold then avoid being around them if possible. Droplets from coughs and sneezes can travel and linger which makes them highly effective in spreading germs from one person to the next
Maybe whatever you do you always seem to be struck down with whatever is going around. If this is the case, then you may wish to consider the flu jab or paying a visit to the doctor, just to make sure you aren't lacking in any essential vitamins and minerals and to check that your immune system is functioning as well as it should be.
If you are one of the many people who are currently suffering with a cold or flu then consider those around you by washing your hands, covering your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing and cancelling appointments where you will be coming into contact with others. Take time to rest, keep warm, sleep well and take in lots of fluid and healthy, nutritious foods.
Louise Appel, Personal Trainer
LLouise Appel Personal Trainer, St John's Wood & Personal Trainer Maida Vale offers customised, individual Personal Training and Pilates at Lords Cricket Ground, St John's Wood. Personal Trainer Harpenden & Personal Trainer St Albans is located at EsTR Fitness.