Boost your immunity

2014-05-29 00:00

THE chilly mornings and evenings experienced recently are notoriously followed by an increase in sneezing, coughing, nose-blowing and other unpleasant symptoms. Instead of allowing winter to get the better of your health this year, aim to boost your defences and give yourself a strong chance to fight the bug onslaught.

The immune system consists of white blood cells that circulate throughout the body, fighting against foreign bacteria, viruses, parasites and other unwanted invaders. If you suffer from frequent colds, sore throats, swollen glands, frequent headaches, exhaustion, fatigue and allergies, it is likely that your immune system is not working optimally and may even be deficient.

A number of environmental factors can reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of the immune system. These factors include exposure to pollutants (such as smoke, pesticides and chemicals), high intakes of artificially coloured and flavoured foods, and a lack of exercise and adequate sleep.

To strengthen your immune system, you need to achieve and maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Eat more vegetable and fruits

The immune system functions best when it is fed plenty of fresh produce, and minimal meat.

The darker the colour of the food, the more phytonutrients and antioxidants are present, which protect against cellular damage. Stock up on coloured peppers, beetroot, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, sprouts, citrus fruits, blueberries and cranberries. Make it your goal at every meal to boost the level of fruit and vegetables you are eating — for example add dried cranberries to cooked oats, frozen berries to apple crumble, extra vegetables to casseroles and stir fries. If you are a salad fan, it’s easy for your intake to drop along with the mercury on the thermometer. Switch to warm stir fries, roasted vegetables and hot vegetable soups instead.

Once you are eating well and have increased your intake of vitamins and minerals through good food intake, then you may also wish to consider a multi-vitamin supplement. Supplements should never replace a healthy diet, but rather supplement it. An extra dose of nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc and the B-vitamins provide additional immune support and are especially useful during seasons when you come into contact with more sick people.

Keep active

By exercising regularly, the oxygenation of cells improves, which in turn boosts the immune system. Moderate-intensity exercise boosts immunity and strengthens your natural defences. Exercise helps to relieve stress levels, which is a key factor in keeping the immune system working well. It is important to have a plan to keep active in the cold of winter, such as walking on a treadmill, using exercise videos or a skipping rope at home or going to the gym. Even going for a walk outside will soon warm you up.

Spend some time outside or let the fresh air inside. In the colder weather, most of us spend 90% or more of our time indoors. This means we’re breathing other people’s germs and sharing the ventilation system’s air.

It is not true that being in cold temperatures causes you to catch a cold. Bacteria and viruses cause colds and flu, although bitterly cold weather may lower your defences against the more virile invaders. Dress warmly and be wise about the length of time you spend outdoors if the temperatures are particularly low.

Sleep tight

While you rest, your body is able to perform repair work and recover. Getting adequate sleep each night (seven to eight hours) is an important part of the prescription for improving immunity.

Following these tips should help to strengthen your immune system this winter, but never forget the first rule of good health — wash your hands regularly to stop the spreading of germs in the first place.

• Sharon Hultzer is a consulting dietitian. She can be reached at eatsmart@iburst.co.za

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