Flu season is here and Covid-19 is still here too – how prepared are you? This will be the second year in a row for dealing with two potentially serious transmissible viruses at once. Influenza and Covid-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses but caused by different viruses. Each will require its own specific vaccine shot to reduce the spread of each.
If you’ve gotten your flu shot, good for you. If not, there’s still time left to roll up your sleeve and get the job done, preferably the sooner the better. According to the CDC, there will be many varieties of flu viruses that are constantly changing for the 2021-2022 flu season. The composition of this season’s flu vaccine has changed and will protect against four different flu viruses that are predicted to be the most dominant.
Besides getting your flu shot, it’s also strongly advisable to be practicing certain steps to protect yourself and others from this potentially deadly illness. One way is by protecting and preparing your immune system to be ready and primed. The immune system is your first line of defense protecting your body against harmful microorganisms. A strong, healthy immune system, while not completely invincible, is far better equipped to fight and defend your health from these foreign invaders than having weakened or fragile immunity.
To enhance your immune system functioning, here are 8 top-notch natural ways to boost it:
1. Wash your hands frequently – Hands down, this is the number one way, besides getting a flu shot, to prevent the flu and other respiratory infections. Scrub your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds in order to kill viruses. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands.
2. Stress less – A known immune system suppressant, stress can weaken your body’s defense fighting mechanism making you vulnerable to becoming ill. If you’re suffering from excess stress, consider techniques helping alleviate it by doing yoga, meditation, dancing, or participating in a hobby you enjoy.
3. If you smoke, find a way to quit – One of the worst ways to reduce your immune system’s capabilities, is to smoke. Not only does smoking increase the risk of cancer but it impairs immune functioning. The effects of smoking on the immune system include greater susceptibility to infections such as pneumonia and influenza, more severe and longer-lasting illnesses, and lower levels of protective antioxidants, like vitamin C, in the blood. Ask your doctor about safe ways to quit smoking today.
4. Get sufficient sleep of 7-9 hours – When it comes to your health, sleep plays an important role and your immune functioning depends on it. More sleep won’t necessarily prevent you from getting sick, but lack of it, can affect your immune system making you more susceptible to a bad cold or a case of the flu. When sleep-deprived, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation. Cytokines are produced and released while you sleep, so chronic sleep loss can reduce your body’s ability to respond to viruses or infections. Developing good sleep habits can help you get the rest you need while keeping your immune system up and running.
5. Get moving more – A good workout never hurt anyone and your immune system loves it when you do. Regular exercise mobilizes T cells, a type of white blood cell that fights the bad bugs wanting to do you harm. While exercise is an ally to healthy immune response, be careful not to overdo it. Rigorous workouts can weaken the immune system, leaving you prone to flu and viral infections.
6. Eat your fruits and veggies – At least 5 servings a day is what the Dietary Guidelines recommend to load your body with disease-fighting nutrients essential for healthy immune functioning. A colorful plate filled at least half with fruits and veggies means many different types of vitamins like A, C, E, K, and folate, and nourishing minerals such as iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and zinc.
7. Reduce alcohol consumption or abstain – Besides many other health complications, excess alcohol can also impair immune functioning, making you more likely to get sick. Drinking alcohol can damage the epithelial cells in your intestines, making it harder to absorb many nutrients. It also severely disturbs your gut’s microbiome which alters the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria. In addition alcohol may suppress both B and T cells, white blood cells that secrete cytokines that attack bacteria. When this happens, your immune system is less efficient at identifying and destroying invading pathogens. If you do consume alcohol, do so responsibly by following moderate drinking guidelines keeping your immune system strong.
8. Get outdoors every day optimizing vitamin D – Step outdoors for a dose of vitamin D. Made from natural sunlight, vitamin D is essential for healthy functioning of the immune system helping to produce antibodies. A brisk 10-15 minute walk outdoors aids in helping you obtain enough vitamin D protecting your immunity against illnesses.
If you are unsure of your vitamin D status, ask your healthcare provider to do a simple blood test. Discuss with your doctor your personal need to whether to take daily a vitamin D3 supplement and at what dosage. Many adult Americans, including children, are vitamin D deficient. By choosing foods rich in vitamin D, spending time outdoors, and if needed, taking a vitamin D supplement, this can help with developing strong immunity.