The cold weather months can leave us vulnerable to increased colds and flu. A strong immune system more readily fights off invaders, leaving us with few to no symptoms, but if we are run down by stress overload, poor diets, or lack of quality sleep, our chances of getting sick increase. Luckily, in addition to your yearly 21-Day Cleanse, there are simple, daily steps you can take to boost your immunity, and help optimize your immune system’s ability to kick out viruses and infections.
1. Eat organic fruits and vegetables. Poor quality diets leave us nutrient depleted and are a common cause of weakened immune response. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain numerous phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals that are essential for good health. Dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, papaya, broccoli, and red peppers, are among the many fruits and veggies loaded with vitamin C, which is a major immunity-boosting superstar. Purchasing organic produce as much as possible reduces your exposure to pesticides, which are carcinogenic. If you eat a plant-based diet on a budget, check out the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15, which tells you which produce items are the most (and least) contaminated with dangerous pesticide residues.
2. Kick your probiotic intake up a notch. Up to 80 percent of our immune system resides in the gut. A healthy GI tract is key to robustly functioning immunity, and probiotics are essential to maintaining great intestinal health. Balanced intestinal flora contributes to better nutrient absorption, and help keep the intestinal lining strong, forming a barrier against pathogenic microbes and other harmful invaders. Probiotics help alleviate inflammation in the gut, which also supports immune function. Be sure to eat probiotic-rich foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and coconut yogurt; and take a high-quality probiotic capsule supplement each day.
3. Keep an eye on your stress levels. Did you know that prolonged stress can lower the body’s pathogen-fighting white blood cell count? While some stress is normal, and can even motivate us in positive ways, too much stress, or stress that becomes chronic and negative, can wear us out; leaving us run down and vulnerable to illness and infections. Learning to mindfully manage stress is a cornerstone of a health-promoting lifestyle. Meditate, spend time with friends, pets, and loved ones, exercise, do yoga, and focus as much as you can on the things that bring you joy.
4. Commit to exercise you enjoy. Getting moderate to vigorous exercise each day is one of the most important things we can do for our health. The key is to avoid overtraining, which can add to your body’s stress levels, and to exercise in ways you genuinely like. You don’t want exercise to be one more chore you dread doing. Yoga is an excellent full-body exercise, and it also promotes relaxation and a healthy stress response. Yoga helps lower stress hormones that negatively impact the immune system, and it stimulates the lymphatic system to give toxins the boot.
5. Prioritize sleep. Getting sufficient sleep is vital to good health. Get seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, so that your body can fully rest and recharge for the next day. Practice good sleep hygiene: take an hour (at least) to wind down before bed. You want your bedroom to be a comforting, restful retreat; keep devices, televisions, and computers in other parts of the house. Quality sleep, combined with a nutrient dense plant-based diet and skillful stress management, will supercharge your immune system; keeping you strong, healthy, and vibrant as the seasons change.
Written by Carolyn de Lorenzo
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