9 Immunity-Boosting Tips for Staying Healthy This Winter

Cold and flu season is upon us, which means it’s time to double down on ensuring a healthy and safe environment for you and your family. Winter is the most common time of year for contagious illnesses because we’re more likely to stay inside, giving germs a perfect environment to thrive.

“Because of coronavirus, most of us are still social distancing and staying indoors, which is a great way to help reduce the spread of germs,” says Beth Burns, Director of Community Relations at Artisan. “However, this doesn’t necessarily ensure that you or your family members don’t get sick. Our immune systems get weaker over the winter due to lack of sunlight and poor health habits. It’s important that everyone take steps to ensure their immune system is operating at peak performance.”

Here are some tips for helping do just that.

1. Get a flu shot.

Getting a flu shot is one of the best ways to help protect yourself. So let’s clear up a few misconceptions:

  • No, you can’t catch the flu from the vaccine.
  • Yes, you can feel under the weather after getting the vaccine due to your immune system working overtime to build up its defenses.
  • Yes, you can still catch the flu even if you get the shot (there are at least 200 strains of flu at any given time, and the vaccine is effective against three or four of those strains). However, you may have lessened symptoms and can recover more quickly.
  • No, antibiotics won’t help when you have the flu (it’s caused by a virus, not bacteria)

Seniors age 65 and older have the highest risk of complications from the flu, so it’s generally recommended that this demographic get a flu shot. Speak with your doctor to see what sort of free or low-cost options may be available to you (most insurance plans cover a flu shot as a preventative measure).

2. Eat a healthy diet.

Winter is the perfect season for stews, soups, hearty casseroles and lots of starch. However, as tempting as it is to sit down with a big bowl of mashed potatoes, it’s important to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. This will ensure you’re getting the nutrition you need to keep your body happy and healthy. Try to avoid overdoing it with sugar, salt and fat and instead fill your plate with leafy greens, lean proteins and unprocessed foods whenever possible.

3. Exercise.

A daily dose of exercise will do wonders for your immune system. Aim for about 30 minutes a day, five days a week. You can even break it up into five or ten minute stretches, if it makes starting a routine easier. If possible, get outside and take a walk as part of your routine – you’ll get fresh air and a great dose of natural Vitamin D. You’ll notice that your mood improves, your metabolism is boosted, you’ll sleep better at night and you’ll feel happier overall.

4. Practice good hygiene.

Because of COVID-19, many of us have made hygiene a high priority this year. It never hurts to have a reminder, though. Be sure to wash or otherwise sanitize your hands thoroughly before eating, after using the toilet, after being out in a public place or have been in contact with other people. Always cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (and then wash your hands). Stay home if you feel sick, and limit in-person interactions whenever possible.

5. Get a good night’s sleep.

Sleeping well doesn’t just help you feel bright-eyed and bushy tailed – it also helps your body fight infections. Think of sleeping as a “reset” button for your mind and body. Prep your bedroom to be a perfect haven for sleep by making sure the room is dark enough, cool enough and is free of distraction. Limit screen time in the evening and avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine too late into the night.

6. Avoid stress.

Stress causes us to go into a “fight or flight” response, pumping cortisol into our bodies and keeping us on high alert. Too much of that, and we can become physically ill. Take some time out of each day to give yourself some self-care, whether through doing something you enjoy or practicing a form of meditation. (Or both.) Practices like yoga and tai chi are a great way to calm your mind while also getting some exercise. Breathing exercises and practicing being in the moment are also immediate stress relievers.

7. Stop smoking.

Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your body overall. But for smokers, there’s an additional benefit: it helps you heal faster. Studies have shown that the immune system of smokers go into overdrive when they catch a viral infection, which causes significantly worse symptoms and recovery times.

8. Reduce alcohol intake.

Alcohol can be all right in moderation, but too much of it and it leads to mental fog, obesity, high blood pressure and a slew of other issues (including increasing your risk of various cancers). Although alcohol is a staple at many holiday gatherings, consider eschewing or reducing the amount you drink this winter. Your body will thank you.

9. Drink plenty of water.

Most of us don’t get enough hydration throughout the day. Drinking fluids is the best way to flush out toxins in your body and make sure everything is working at peak performance. Aim for eight cups of liquid a day to start. If plain water isn’t really to your liking, you can also substitute with herbal teas, broths or flavored water. Carry a water bottle with you to help remind you to drink, even when you’re not thirsty (being thirsty is a sign that you’re already dehydrated).

No one enjoys being sick, especially during the winter months. By following these immune-boosting tips, you’ll set yourself up for success starting now and until spring arrives.