The change of seasons, along with colder temperatures, is approaching. As we move into the colder months, many seek out methods to stay healthy and remain free from illness. Truth be told, there is not a whole lot you can do to make your immune system operate above and beyond your body’s normal immune function. However, what you can do is take certain steps to ensure your immune system is performing optimally, which can reduce your chances of getting sick.
There is something we need to clear up before we dive into those four primary steps. Contrary to popular belief, cold temperatures do not cause you to get sick directly. People tend to spend more time inside during the colder months which increase the amount of time they are within close proximity to other people. The more direct contact you have with people in higher numbers, the higher the risk of catching a virus.
Indoor holiday parties start to stack up every weekend as we progress into the winter months—they may feature large numbers of people in small settings with no circulating air, shaking hands, hugging, and even kissing. This is the most ideal situation for viruses to spread. We also tend to have our guard down during such events since we are surrounded by family and friends, not strangers we pass in daily life. The best methods to remain healthy are generally hardest to follow due to life’s obstacles.
The most important step you can take to ensure good health through the change of seasons is prioritizing sleep. Getting adequate sleep will keep your immune system functioning optimally during a time where viruses pose the highest threat. There is study after study providing evidence of how important sleep is for proper immune function. Some studies have even shown that one single night of poor sleep can reduce the effectiveness of certain aspects of the immune system by greater than 50%. Now just imagine what long periods with inadequate sleep could do.
Therefore, start focusing on healthy sleeping habits by putting the phone and other electronics away an hour before bed, winding down by reading a book or taking a hot bath, and going to bed and waking up around the same time each day. If you still have trouble sleeping or getting the amount of sleep you need, seek out a sleep aid like Animal PM. Animal PM contains a blend of ingredients that is very effective in helping you relax and improve the quality of your sleep.
Chronic stress can be very detrimental to the immune system—probably more so than people think—but avoiding stress is just not possible for most. Although we cannot turn off our life stressors, we can learn to manage it better. Stress management goes hand in hand with sleep. If you are getting poor sleep, then your coping mechanism will decrease making it harder to handle day to day life stress. Adequate sleep is a key component in stress management. I know many are rolling their eyes at this but they shouldn’t.
Too many people play the “that is how I am” game when it comes to being stressed. We all have different stress responses and stress levels that we can tolerate. What makes one person better than others at handling the same stress? It is a matter of perspective. Learning over time to become mentally flexible, adaptable, thick skinned, and able to move on past things is the best way to manage that stress. Additionally, having a weekly physical outlet like exercise or sports can also be very helpful in managing that stress.
It is possible for people to change their stress threshold. We’ve all done this as we have gotten older, but many do not even realize it. For example, look at what used to get us stressed when we were 15 years old. Now look at what makes us stressed today. We would probably laugh at what used to stress us out at 15. Case in point.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is a pretty well-known practice for optimal health on all fronts. However, will eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables help your immune system perform supra-physiologically? No, but it will help your immune system perform optimally by providing it with a variety of micronutrients that are essential for many body processes. It is relatively common for people in the fitness industry to lack variety in their diet. Something as simple as just changing up your vegetable choices with meals and including fruit in your diet at least twice per day can make a substantial difference in micronutrient content. Hit your daily macros but make sure to include a variety of micronutrient-dense foods.
Keeping your hands clean and avoiding touching your face is probably the biggest preventative measure you can take to avoid getting sick during the colder months. While more people today rely on hand sanitizer for convenience, this is not the best way to defeat the bacteria and viruses on your hands. I’ve worked in hospitals for years and we were taught that the best way to prevent transmission of bacteria and viruses from patient to patient is through proper hand washing, which is consistent with what the CDC recommends.
Hand sanitizer is better than nothing, but it should not be used to substitute for thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water. If you choose a sanitizer, makes sure it has at least 60% alcohol, apply to palm of hands, and rub in until your hands are dry. Most importantly, get in the habit of not touching your face. People have no idea how many times they touch their face (eyes, mouth, nose, etc.) throughout the day. That is a very common yet easily preventable pathway for viruses to enter the body.
As we move through fall and into winter, implement these four steps to the best of your ability over the coming months. You will not regret it. Many of these steps will improve your quality of life by increasing energy, improving mood, increasing physical performance, and helping recovery from training. Sometimes we need to attach more than one reason to change our daily habits. Now you have many of them.