Keeping yourself and the rest of the family healthy can be hard work, especially during the winter months when coughs and colds seem to be doing the rounds everywhere. Fortunately there are simple steps you can take to support your immune system and keep yourself as healthy as possible.
Stress is a part of modern life, but we often forget about the physical toll it can take on our body. Studies show that ongoing stress makes you more likely to come down with an illness such as colds and flu, or more serious chronic conditions. This is thought to be because stress ‘ages’ the immune system. Reducing the levels of stress in your life will help to improve your body’s immune response.
Get enough sleep
There is definitely truth behind what your mother always told you about needing to get enough sleep. Studies show that cells of the immune system called T‐cells are reduced in number if we are sleep deprived and inflammatory chemicals called cytokines are increased. This makes us more likely to get sick. Although it’s not always easy to do, getting enough sleep can help ensure your immune system is in good shape to fight off infection.
Drink plenty of water
Adequate hydration has a big impact on your immune system, for several reasons. Drinking enough water makes sure that your blood is well oxygenated and that your kidneys are able to get rid of waste products properly. If you’re dehydrated, waste products build up in the bloodstream, weakening your immune system. An easy way of reminding yourself to drink water through the day is to carry a water bottle with you wherever you go. It’s a constant reminder and it’s very convenient!
We all know that smoking is bad, both for ourselves and the people around us. Cigarette smoke contains many harmful substances, including tar, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, free radicals, metals such as arsenic, cadmium and lead, and radioactive compounds. These substances affect the immune system in various ways, including by reducing the amounts of protective antioxidants such as vitamin C in the bloodstream. Smokers are more prone to illness because they have weaker immune systems. Illnesses are also more severe and it takes longer to get over them. So if you haven’t quit smoking yet, give it another go today!
A glass of wine now and then is enjoyed by many, however excessive alcohol consumption (three or more drinks a day) can damage your immune system. Once alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream, it reduces the number of white blood cells that the body needs to fight infection. It also causes red blood cells to clump together and plug up smaller blood vessels. This reduces the oxygen supply to organs in the body and weakens your immunity. Cutting back on your alcohol intake is an easy way to improve your immune system.
Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
Adding more fresh fruit and vegetables to your diet will improve your immune system and overall health. This is because these foods contain high levels of antioxidants that protect cells and repair cell damage caused by free radicals. Three of the most important antioxidants are beta‐carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E found in purple, blue, red, orange and yellow coloured fruit and vegetables. Remember not to overcook them, as the nutrients are easily destroyed.