With winter in full force, I like to take time to remember all the ways I can help support my immune system. I aim to get a solid eight hours of sleep most nights, and I take several Pilates classes a week, which I find to be a meditative activity. And as a registered dietitian nutritionist, I'm always aware of how the nutrients in fruits, vegetables and other foods can promote good health and a healthy immune system. Taking care of your mind and body can do wonders for staying healthy this winter - and here are some of my favorite ways to do so.
- Eat your vitamins. There's a reason we should aim to eat the rainbow when it comes to produce: Nutrients are found in a variety of fruits and vegetables. Load a green or grain salad with orange or sweet potato slices, and pair clementines or strawberries with almonds or edamame at snack time. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that supports the body's immune system. The daily value for adults is 60 milligrams-and a cup of orange slices offers 139 percent of that, while a cup of strawberries boasts 141 percent. Vitamin C is important for many body functions, including helping the body to absorb plant-based iron from foods and helping it to maintain strong teeth, cartilage and bones, shows Additionally, studies show that the adrenal glands host a high concentration of vitamin C. The antioxidant may help support adrenal health by influencing the release of glucocorticoids from the adrenal glands. These glucocorticoids help optimize the body in handling both physical and emotional stress.
- Wash your hands often and well. Give your hands a suds any time you're about to touch food, after you've used the bathroom or after you shake hands with someone who's sick (consider air high-fiving instead). The proper way to wash: Lather your hands, then scrub them in warm or cold running water for at least 20 seconds, or the length of time it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice. Frequent hand washing tends to dry out skin, so it's a good idea to moisturize after you wash.
- Get plenty of zzz's. Hitting the hay at a reasonable hour is one of the easiest things you can do to help keep your immune system going strong. Think of sleep as refueling your body. A car couldn't run without gas, right? Same for your body - it can't properly run without sufficient sleep. Research shows that sleep not only helps support the body's immune system -lack of sleep also may negatively impact the immune system. Adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
- Keep hydrated. Water comprises up to 60 percent of your body weight-and when you feel thirsty, you're likely already 1 to 2 percent dehydrated. Hydration is essential any time of the year, but it's especially important when dry winter air tends to zap away moisture. Hydration has a huge effect on how your body functions as it's important not only for cognitive health but also for helping to regulate digestion. Carry a bottle of water around with you, and ask for refills at restaurants. Herbal tea counts as water, too, so consider making an evening ritual of sipping Sleep & Relax Tea, which combines soothing Chamomile with Lemon Balm, Licorice and Passionflower.*
- Make time for meditation. Setting aside "me" time to meditate or participate in a mind-body exercise such as yoga, tai chi, or qigong is important for both the mind and the body. Specifically, such therapy may help reduce markers of inflammation in the body, potentially helping to regulate the immune system. Whether you schedule a yoga class for tomorrow morning or close your office door and use a meditation app for a few minutes today, you're doing your immune system some good.
- Take Echinacea. Having a daily serving of the herb Echinacea for a short period (follow the package directions) may help support a healthy person's immune system, suggests preliminary research.* Try Echinacea Supreme, which is a combination of Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea.
- Get moving! Regular exercise can contribute to good health as well as a healthy immune system. One way it may do so is by supporting gut health and immune function.* Additionally, getting up and moving may help you catch more quality sleep. One large study found that regular exercise during middle age helps promote healthy sleep - subjects who had higher aerobic fitness levels were less likely to complain about sleep to their doctors.