How to support your immune system before winter
With winter on the horizon, how can you make sure your immune system is in tip-top shape to fight off bugs?
While there’s some debate as to whether you can in fact “boost” your immune system, leading a healthy lifestyle and getting the basics right is important to support immune function. Here are some tips.
1. Eat well
Eating a well-balanced diet is an important part of supporting your immune system. Research has found that certain micronutrient deficiencies (such as zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid and vitamins A, B6, C and E) alter immune response in animals.
Variety is key. “Eat a healthy, balanced diet, rich in whole foods and limit your sugar intake,” said Dr Prachi Dadheech, who consults at our sister clinic, Bluff Road Medical Centre.
Aim to eat a rainbow of fruit and vegetables every day to nourish your body with an array of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. You can find some great info about the health benefits of eating different coloured fruits and vegetables here.
Be sure to drink plenty of water and incorporate grains, lean proteins and dairy (and alternatives) into your diet. You can find recommended serves from the various food groups and info about the health risks of various deficiencies here.
2. Exercise regularly
There are all sorts of health benefits to exercise. It improves cardiovascular health, helps reduce the risk of certain diseases, improves or maintains blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and so much more.
Research also suggests that exercise may benefit immunity. “Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living,” said Dr Dadheech. “Incorporating this habit in your lifestyle can also boost your immune system.”
Aim to be active most days. Each week, adults should do either:
- 5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity – such as a brisk walk, golf, mowing the lawn or swimming.
- 25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous intensity physical activity – such as jogging, aerobics, fast cycling, soccer or netball.
- an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activities.
3. Maintain a healthy weight
Did you know your weight can affect how your immune system performs? A larger body mass index of 30 or more in adults has been linked to impaired immune function.
If you’re struggling with your weight, get in touch. We have doctors who have specialised knowledge surrounding weight loss and can help you work towards your goals.
4. Get enough sleep
Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Are you getting enough?
There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest sleep loss can negatively affect your immune system response. Sleep loss has also been linked to a higher risk of infection.
5. Reduce stress
Cortisol, which is released when the body is stressed, can alter immune system response. If you constantly feel stressed, it’s important to take steps to cope better.
6. Give up smoking
The dangers of smoking has been well documented, and among them are that it can disrupt the balance of the immune system. Research has revealed it’s one of the causes of rheumatoid arthritis, a painful condition whereby the immune system attacks the joints.
Other risks in terms of immune function include greater susceptibility to infections, more severe and lingering illnesses and lower levels of antioxidants in the blood.
If you need help quitting, our doctors can support you.
7. Be vigilant about hand hygiene
One of the easiest ways to protect against illness is to remember to wash your hands frequently.
In wintertime, we tend to stay indoors more near others, making it easier to catch bugs. Illnesses such as the influenza virus also tend to thrive more in cold, dry weather.
Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based sanitiser.
8. Get vaccinated
Vaccines help prepare your immune system to fight off infections. Make sure you keep up to date with all your jabs, including COVID and influenza.
In Australia, we saw a record low influenza season in 2021, followed by significantly higher numbers in 2022. “Symptoms can range from mild to severe, in some instances resulting in serious illness requiring hospitalisation,” said Dr Dadheech.
“The “flu” is the most common vaccine preventable illness and the vaccine is a safe and effective way at protecting against the virus. It is recommended for anyone 6 months old and over.”
You can find more about the 2023 seasonal influenza vaccine here. It’s a good idea to have your influenza vaccine anytime from mid-April onwards to offer protection in time for the June to September spike.
You can find the latest information about 2023 COVID-19 booster doses on this website.
What about supplements?
Companies that sell supplements have to be careful about the way they word their benefits, and there’s a reason for that. The jury is largely still out as to whether supplements actually work.
For example, this Harvard article says that although some preparations may alter certain components of immune function, there is actually little evidence that they can bolster immunity to improve your chances of fighting off infection and disease.
This Time article claims there’s no clear evidence to suggest the benefits of dietary supplement use for many popular or common health outcomes.
Bottom line: nutritional supplements may help with certain deficiencies, but eating a healthy, balanced diet is likely to be more beneficial to your health and immune function than popping a supplement.
Like to make an appointment?
We hope you’ve found these tips for supporting your immune system this winter helpful. For further reading, check out 5 ways to stay healthy through winter.
Like to see one of our doctors? Book now or call 03 9583 1630.