Thinking back, I probably appeared to be cowering in the corner like the guy had the plague or something. In my defense, he kind of looked as though he might. His eyes were red with that “I haven’t slept in two days” look, he was sniffling, sneezing and I’m fairly sure he was achy all over. Yeah, he was a walking Nyquil commercial. And I was trapped in an elevator with him. I’m pretty sure I held my breath for five floors.
It seems that no matter where you find yourself, somebody’s spreading the love. Between colds, the flu, or other infections, avoiding germy people is impossible short of buying yourself a Bubble Boy setup and rolling around town in it. Strangers on elevators, kids at day care, even those overzealous co-workers who refuse to take sick days—they all pose a risk. Avoiding them might just be your best defense, but boosting your immunity is just as important. Since our immune systems naturally tend to weaken as we age, supporting them is essential during cold and flu season.
Try some of these tips to help keep your immune system in fighting condition:
Work out smarter, not harder - According to Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary specialist and flu expert at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, workout routines that get you all buffed up in a matter of weeks might boost your confidence, but they actually slow down your immune system. Studies show that moderate exercise helps immune cells circulate through the bloodstream at a more rapid pace, so bacteria or viruses are less likely to slip through unnoticed. Aim for about 20 minutes of cardio (walking or running, for instance) plus 15 to 20 minutes of strength training three times a week. You could also try some yoga for an extra boost.
Go to bed earlier - Losing even a little bit of sleep could make you more susceptible to colds. You may relish your downtime before bed—who doesn’t want an hour to read or watch TV after he crazy, hectic day you’ve had? But if you relax at the expense of sleeping, fighting off germs gets harder. As little as 30 to 60 minutes of additional shut-eye per night is enough to boost your immunity, Dr. Mark Moyad, director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center and author of Dr. Moyad's No BS Diet Health Advice: A Step-by-Step Guide to What Works and What's Worthless.Dr. Moyad's No BS Health Advice, says, “Sleep is a restorative process, and its necessary for the immune system to function properly,” he explains. Even naps can help. “When you feel tired don’t fight it,” Dr. Moyad adds. “It’s your body’s way of telling you that you need to recharge.”
Limit sugar and alcohol - Too much alcohol? It could affect infection-fighting immune cells. Life often means career, family, and keeping up the social calendar – all at the same time. This can lead to meals on the go, sugary snacks for energy, and a bit of weekend social drinking. It also means your immunity can suffer, says Dr. Moyad, “The sugar in just one can of soda can compromise immune system function by 30% for up to three hours,” he explains. How? It immobilizes immunity cells and damages their ability to surround and destroy bacteria. He recommends not only limiting drinking but also replacing sweets with high-fiber snacks like oatmeal, whole-wheat muffins, or apples.
Amp up antioxidants - To ramp up your immunity, add more antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies to your diet. Research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that broccoli, cabbage, and kale offer the biggest immune system boost because they contain an important cancer-fighting compound. Another smart choice is matcha, a powdered form of ground-up green tea leaves. One cup of matcha can rival the antioxidant protection found in 10 cups of brewed green tea and up to 100 times the antioxidant power of vitamins C, according to pharmacist Suzy Cohen, RPh, author of Drug Muggers: How to Keep Your Medicine From Stealing the Life Out of You. Dr. Moyad suggests adding a spoonful of honey to your tea for extra protection: “It has incredible antibacterial powers.”
So, instead of walking around all winter wearing a surgical mask for protection, try a few of these immunity boosters and enjoy a little human interaction. After all, living in a bubble is highly overrated.
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