Immunity-Boosting Tips for Fall
If you’re looking ahead to this year’s cold and flu season with uncertainty, you’re not alone. On the one hand, we’re wearing masks and social distancing. That should help, right? But on the other hand, we have another serious virus to contend with this season. According to Harvard Health Publishing, there are two main reasons we get sick more often in winter: we spend more time indoors with other people, and some viruses, like the flu, can stay airborne longer in colder weather.
We don’t know exactly what COVID-19 will mean for this year’s cold and flu season, but it’s safe to say we should double down on our usual protective measures. That means washing our hands frequently, wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding touching our face while we’re out and about, and getting a flu shot. It also means staying home when we experience cold symptoms to avoid spreading any type of virus. Preventing exposure is by far the best way to keep from getting sick. Despite our best efforts, however, illness-causing intruders can sometimes sneak past our defenses. It’s then that our immune systems must step up and fight.
What your immune system needs from you
Your immune system is an intricate network of organs, cells, and proteins that work together to defend the body from infection and disease. Due to its complexity, it’s better to focus on living a healthy lifestyle in general than to pin your hopes on a single supplement or superfood. That being said, recent research points to a few specific strategies that seem to hold promise in shoring up the body’s defenses. Let’s explore four healthy habits that might be worth adding to your immunity arsenal this fall.
Replenish and rebalance through sleep
Night owls, take note. Here’s one more reason to prioritize sleep—it’s a seriously powerful immune booster. According to the National Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep causes the body to make fewer cytokines, a specific protein that targets inflammation and infection. Plus, when you’re fatigued, your body releases stress hormones to keep you alert, which is known to have an immune-suppressing effect. Recent research has even revealed that sleep can enhance the efficiency of T-cells, a type of white blood cell that plays a critical role in fighting infection. In fact, a 2015 study found that people who slept seven hours or more every night were four times less likely to catch a cold than those who slept less than six.
Befriend good bacteria
When it comes to immunity, we tend to think of bacteria as the bad guy. But we now know that nearly 70% of our immune system is located in our digestive tract and the beneficial bacteria and microorganisms in our gut play an important role in defending us from illness. In one study, workers who were given a daily dose of the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri took 55% less sick days due to gastrointestinal or respiratory tract infections, suggesting it may be worth tending to our microbiota during cold and flu season. The simplest way to introduce more good bacteria into your body is by eating fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, and kombucha. Additionally, a diet rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates can help keep these friendly bacteria fed.
Get your sunshine in a bottle
As we journey toward winter and the days grow shorter and colder, we inevitably spend less time in the sun. Without direct sunlight on our skin, our body can’t produce vitamin D—one of the most important nutrients for our immune system. About 40% of U.S. adults are thought to be deficient in vitamin D and it’s not found in many foods, so it’s something you’ll want to consider supplementing throughout the colder months. Studies have found that taking this immune enhancer daily significantly reduces the risk of getting sick with the common cold or flu. The recommended daily dose is 600 IU for children and adults aged 1 to 70 years and 800 IU for people over 70.
Break a daily sweat
Exercise is one of the best ways to increase circulation, which helps infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies travel where they’re needed. A good sweat can also reduce the levels of immune-suppressing stress hormones in the body and increase overall health and vitality. A study following 1,000 people during the fall and winter months found that those who exercised at least five days a week were nearly half as likely to develop an upper respiratory infection as those who were sedentary. Plus, when regular exercisers did get sick, their symptoms were greatly diminished. Just be aware that when it comes to exercise, more isn’t always better. Don’t go so hard that you over stress your body; aim for 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise every day.
Supporting a healthy fall season
While these immune-boosting strategies are helpful at any time of year, fall is an especially important time to put them into play. We want our bodies’ defenses to be as strong as possible to guard against viral invaders and help us rebound more quickly if we do catch a cold or flu.
Remember—the best way to stay healthy this season is to limit your chances of being exposed to a virus. If you start feeling sick, help keep others safe by staying home and reporting your symptoms to your doctor. Mild symptoms can usually be treated with simple rest and self-care, however, if your doctor prescribes an antiviral medication, there’s no need to drag yourself out of bed. We’ll hand-deliver it to your door for free.
Alto can make the whole prescription process easier. Let us show you how. Our team is available to answer your questions from 6 am - 9 pm PT Monday - Friday, and 7 am - 6 pm PT on weekends; reach out by phone at 1-800-874-5881 or download the mobile app for secure messaging.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.