I saw a meme the other day that really made me question the mainstream notion of a cold/flu season. It’s already been scientifically proven that temperature alone cannot cause the flu, cold or any other viral illness. However, we still hear and say things like “bundle up so that you don’t get sick.”'
It’s a fact that the number of cases of the flu, colds, respiratory infections, and sinus infections does increases during the cold months. But, why? I began to think about the factors that contribute to the rampant sickness. What’s going on with the immune system? What does the immune system need to function at full capacity? It's important to continue putting you first during the winter.
The days are shorter and the nights are longer during the winter months. This oftentimes means less sun. Also, people are discouraged from going outside because the cold. This leads to a lack of sun exposure, which really hurts the immune system.
The sun is an important contributor to immune wellness. The sun is of course a provider of vitamin D. The sun also activates the melanin of the body. Vitamin D is vital for optimal nutrition and mental wellness. Vitamin D also regulates the mood. Vitamin D supports good bone health. For many people of African descent, they have a higher concentration of white blood cells stored in bone. Therefore, the vitamin D supporting bone health directly affects the efficiency and effectiveness of the immune system.
Aim to get at least 15 minutes of direct sun light and fresh air a day, even when it’s cold.
Many of people are tempted to go into hibernation during the winter. They spend less time outside, and often that translates to less movement and exercise. A lack of exercise is detrimental to the immune system.
One of the most important benefits of movement is increased circulation. Good circulation is important to many functions in the body including proper oxidation and waste removal. Without good circulation there is stagnation in the body. Cold weather can increase the amount of mucus in the body and actively slows circulation. Without proper circulation mucus can be stagnant causing sinus irritation and the growth of cysts or tumors. The body can be overrun with mucus due to poor circulation. The immune system can be inundated by viruses, infections, and waste because of poor circulation and stagnation. Just imagine the immune system does its job and attacks and isolates virus or an infection, only to have it linger in the body due to poor circulation. This compromises the entire immune system because it isn’t able to focus on new threats. It’s still focusing on the waste is inside the body.
Another important benefit of getting movement during the winter is strength. Not only are the muscles of the body strengthened by exercise, but also the organ systems. The heart is a muscle. It has to pump to provide proper circulation for the body. The lungs are muscular organs. With proper exercise, the lungs are conditioned to work efficiently. The lungs are on the front line of immune defense because of the air we breathe is often contaminated and must be filtered and cleanse through the lungs.
Aim to get 15 minutes of movement a day. Yoga is a great winter exercise.
Because it’s cold during the winter months, people often don’t drink enough water. In addition to not drinking enough water, people often drink more dehydrating drinks like caffeinated teas and coffee.
Hydration is very important to the immune system. Proper hydration helps the body cleanse itself of waste products produced by the immune system. The lymphatic system, liver, kidneys and digestive tract cannot properly function without sufficient water intake. These organ systems are extremely important for healthy immune function. About 80% of the of the immune system is in the gut and the gut flora. If there is stagnation and constipation in the digestive system due to a lack of water and fiber, the normal function of the immune system is highly compromised. Proper hydration also helps with efficient cell function.
Aim to drink 6 – 8 glasses of water a day. Add more water if you drink coffee or exercise.
The fall and winter are a time for comfort foods and holiday gatherings. Comfort food and popular holiday foods are rich in simple starches, sugar, and are usually overcooked.
With an overabundance of heavy comfort food and special holiday treats, it can really weigh the body down. The heavy foods can slow down the digestive track and affect the glucose levels in the body, and thus ultimately taxing the immune system.
Fresh raw fruits and vegetables are much less appealing during the cold months. Yet, that doesn’t mean the body doesn’t need them. Live foods provide antioxidants that aid in cell regeneration and the immune system function. Fruits and vegetables lose most of the antioxidant and enzyme properties when cooked. Dark green leafy vegetables like kale, collards and chard help the body maintain a healthy pH balance. The pH balance of the body can be thrown off and skewed towards being too acidic with simple starches, sweets, and meat. Dark green leafy vegetables balance the blood. An acidic body is a playground for viruses and infections. Viruses simply can’t thrive in an alkaline environment. It’s important to continue to eat fresh fruits and vegetables even during the cold months.
Taking in the proper amount of fresh fruits and vegetables also aids in overall nutrition. Not only do cooked foods lose antioxidants they can also use lose other vital minerals and nutrients during the cooking process. Eating an abundance of overly cooked foods can lead to malnutrition. The body must be well nourished in order to have an effective immune system and fight off viruses and infections. It’s important to be mindful of overall nutrition intake and include fresh fruits and vegetables to have a healthy immune system.
Aim to eat 2-4 servings of fresh fruits and/or vegetables a day.
Fall and winter encompass some of the year’s most stressful occasions. Holidays are supposed to be full of joy and fellowship, however, they can be very stressful, especially if one is hosting. For those celebrating Christmas, buying gifts and balancing the budget can be very stressful. Winter is also tax season. Lots of people are up for year-end reviews at their job. The travel related to the holidays can be stressful for many.
It’s important to focus on having inner peace and tranquility for a healthy immune system. Stress releases hormones into the body like cortisone and adrenaline which can stress the nervous system. A body experiencing stress is not able to fight off viruses and infections as effectively. Therefore maintaining balance in inner-joy is an important aspect of a healthy immune system.
Aim to start the day with meditation. It’s okay to start with 30 seconds of deep breathing and clearing the mind. With practice, the meditation sessions can last longer.
Frequent hand-washing and sanitizing aids in keeping the body healthy. You can check out more self-care tips.
So, how are you doing this winter? Did you discover anything that can help boost your immune system?
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Sis. Freya is the creator of RootMama. She loves encouraging women to achieve greatness.
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