We are well in to the cold dark months now, a season that has been marketed as ‘cold and flu season’. For me, ‘cold and flu ‘is not a season – both colds and flu are respiratory illnesses caused by viruses which are present all year long, whilst seasons mark beautiful natural dividers of the year. By naming the winter season as ‘cold and flu’ we are generating fear and anticipation of illness around what should be a period of warmth, comfort and restoration.
What makes us more susceptible to becoming affected by viruses and overcoming them really lies in how strong our natural defences are. It is absolutely true that we can thrive during the winter months if we take a bit more care in supporting our immune system particularly with consideration to the following –
- Good nutrition
Eat seasonal fruit and vegetables, preferable local. Lots of root vegetable at this time of year provide us with fibre and help feed the good bacteria in the gut which goes a long way to supporting our immune system. Rotating our ingredients ensures we get a full spectrum of all the different micronutrients our body needs for optimum function. Eating the same vegetables day in day out mean we risk losing out on some of these essential vitamins and minerals. It’s tempting to eat for comfort at this time of year, just watch out for the high sugar and saturated fatty foods which can burden the immune system and encourage cravings. Instead chose warming soups, stews, dhals for really warming nourishing meals.
- Vitamin D
We are likely to be low in our vitamin D stores in the winter months as we have such little daylight, so it’s worth considering supplementation here. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with a higher risk for infection. Food sources include organic mushrooms, oily fish and organic egg yolks. Some vegan products are fortified with vitamin D also so it’s worth checking labels. When the sun is at its brightest during the day, it’s great to get outside and enjoy a big natural dose of sunshine.
For most people at least 7-8 hours, and the quality of our sleep is crucial when we are looking at supporting our immune system. Whilst we sleep our body is repairing itself – it does this by releasing proteins called cytokines which specifically target infection or inflammation. So by compromising our sleep, we are inhibiting this release of healing proteins and compromising our body’s ability to self-heal.
- Keep moving
It might not really appeal to go outside for a run or attend a vigorous exercise class, but it’s important to keep active, even if at a slower pace than usual. A brisk walk for 30 minutes in the fresh air, a slower-pace yoga class, a fun outdoor activity with the kids…. These can all keep us active and help lower stress hormones.
Not only does it keeps us hydrated but water carries oxygen in the body to all cells. It helps flush out toxins and foreign invaders through the kidneys. Dehydration can add to fatigue and brain-fog. Try and aim for 1 and a half litres per day depending on your activity levels this could be a little more or less. Herbal teas count in our daily water intake but not coffee nor black tea which are high in caffeine and are dehydrating. If you find water really dull try adding a bit of chopped fruit, ginger or herbs to make it more interesting.
Finally if you usually struggle during the winter months, try to find some joy in this season.
It’s a time for turning inwards, for self-reflection, slowing down, staying cosy and preserving our energies for the spring. Make the most of the long nights, wear your comfiest clothes, light all the candles and hunker down with your family.
Before we know it spring will be here and we can emerge from winter healthy and rested.