The flu has begun making its rounds again, and it’s a more intense mutation of the virus than we’ve seen in a few years. People are staying under the weather for weeks with coughs and sinus issues, and the recovery process is slow.
With a more severe pathogen afoot, people are on the hunt for ways to avoid exposure to the virus and minimize the possibility of becoming sick. Many start taking extra vitamin C or scour the internet for herbal immune support products. These things can certainly be helpful, but the best way to boost your immune system and prevent illness is to work from within. I’ve outlined 5 simple and free ways to tune up your immune system.
1) Smart hand washing
Hand washing is a classic, right? It’s always a great recommendation because it minimizes your exposure to the virus. If you come in contact with a pathogen, you’re able to remove it from the exterior of your body before it migrates to the interior and makes itself comfortable for a nice, long stay. My twist on the classic is adding the word “smart.” Smart hand washing asks you to be aware of items or people you have come in contact with that may be carrying the virus. Washing your hands immediately afterward is critical, even if these exposures are only five minutes apart.
If you are sitting in your office with minimal interpersonal interactions for three hours, it is unlikely that you need to wash your hands. However, if you are in a meeting and you share a pen with Bob who has two sick little girls at home, it’s a good idea to wash your hands. Ten minutes later, you borrow Mary’s cell phone at lunch because you forgot that you lent yours to Bob in the meeting. This is a great opportunity to wash your hands.
Make sure you wash with warm, soapy water for at least 30 seconds.
Staying hydrated is necessary for your body to function properly. We are all about 60% water, and we need a constant, fresh supply to stay in balance. Water is a crucial component for the body’s metabolic reactions and is a major way that the body disposes of waste products (i.e. urine, sweat, etc.).
The equation is pretty simple:
Not enough water –> excess waste products build up in body –> body uses extra resources to breakdown harmful metabolites = less resources available to keep the immune system strong
Wondering how much water to drink? Take your body weight and divide it in half. That is the number of ounces per day that you should drink. Check back for posts about water in the future!
Sleep is the main way the body recovers from the activities of the day. If the sleep cycle is cut short, the body has to continue its repair process while all your other metabolic functions are fired up for the day. The repair process is greatly slowed, and it drains energy from other essential functions, like warding off flu viruses.
To stay healthy and keep your immune system up and running, it is crucial to get enough sleep. Seven hours a night is generally the minimum for people to function well, however, nine hours a night is a better goal.
Exercise boosts your immune system in a couple ways. First, it increases your metabolism so more waste products are excreted via the sweat and urine. Second, it moves your lymph! What’s lymph? It’s a fluid that is excreted from your capillaries and then picked up by lymphatic vessels. It is returned to regular circulation near your heart.
What’s special about this fluid is that it travels through lymph nodes on its way back to your blood vessels. Lymph nodes are full of immune cells. When lymph filters through lymph nodes, your immune cells spot pathogens and alert your entire immune system there is an invader.
Lymph is only moved when muscles move. Muscle contractions squeeze the lymph up the lymphatic vessels and into the nodes. When you exercise, you are filtering lymph through your lymph nodes and giving your immune system a chance to respond to a potential pathogen early in its replication process.
If you want your immune system to be healthy, you have to eat in a way that is nourishing to your body. Here are a few pointers:
- Avoid processed foods. Chemicals and preservatives take extra energy to break down and eliminate. They also clog up your liver, which is your major detoxification center. With more toxins around, your body is fighting its own internal clean up battle, and has less energy to put toward defending against external insults, like the flu virus.
- Avoid refined foods. Refined foods, like white flour and sugar, have been shown to decrease the immune response.
- Avoid alcohol. It also clogs up your liver, making it harder to process waste products, thus sapping resources away from your immune system.
- Increase veggies and soups. Both are high in mineral content, especially if the soup is made with bone broth, and soup has the added benefit of being hydrating. Minerals are essential to the function of our immune system, and most people are mineral deficient.
I hope these guidelines have been helpful, and that they keep you happy and healthy through the flu season!