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Six ways to boost your immunity before you get sick

It's winter, and the flu and cold season is here to stay for a while. Many of us have a few tricks up our sleeves for dealing with illness when it hits. But what can we do to stay healthy in the first place?

Here are six things you can try to help boost your immunity:

  1. Drink plenty of fluids. Water is the best. Many of us have heard that we should drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water per day. But that can be hard, so try having a glass of water when you wake up in the morning to start the day off right. Our bodies are already dehydrated from sleeping, so it's a great way to remedy that immediately. Another tip: If you like warm drinks in the winter, try non-caffeinated teas, which you can include in your water tally.
  2. Exercise. We are taught that exercise is important, and often think of it in regards to prevention of illnesses like heart disease and high blood pressure, or as a way to keep our weight down. But exercise also can contribute to general good health and a healthy immune system. It may promote good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely to do their job efficiently.
  3. Stress less. Stress drains our abilities to stay strong. If we have big stressors—or even low-level stressors—daily, our system is constantly pushed to overcome that stress. One way I de-stress is by giving myself time for "self-care." This can mean different things for different people, but essentially it's doing things that "refill your tank." I like to read a good book, get a massage or exercise. Even singing or prayer can lift me up.
  4. Get a good night's sleep. Sleep is a regenerative process for our bodies. When we are sleep deprived our T cells (natural immune cells) go down and inflammatory cytokines (inflammation cells) go up. That means we can connect good sleep to strengthening our immunity.
  5. Eat foods that have probiotics in them. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines probiotics as, "live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit." Some research has shown that probiotics are important partners in building our immune system. Try eating fermented and cultured foods that contain probiotics (look for "live active cultures" on the label): If you haven't tried probiotic foods before, the flavors are strong. So start with a little at a time. Even a teaspoon or so can help you develop a taste for these beneficial foods. Remember your grandmothers likely ate some combination of these kinds of fermented and cultured foods every day.

    • cabbage family: unpasteurized sauerkraut and the Korean dish kimchi
    • milk family: cottage cheese, yogurt, kefir (a thick, creamy and drinkable yogurt), lassi (an Indian drink made from a yogurt or buttermilk base with water) and leban (a liquid or semisolid food made from curdled milk
    • soy family: tofu, the Japanese seasoning miso, natto (fermented soybeans), shoyu or tamari (types of Japanese soy sauce) and tempeh (an Indonesian dish made from fermented soybeans)
    • drinks: kombucha (fermented, lightly sweetened black or green tea drink) and kvass (traditional Slavic and Baltic fermented beverage commonly made from rye bread)
    If you want to explore using a probiotic supplement, talk to your health provider. There are a variety of probiotic pills available for purchase in the vitamin section of natural food stores.
  6. Maintain a well-balanced diet. Beyond probiotics, eating healthy can help keep you well. Eat a rainbow of vegetables and fruits daily to ensure a variety of nutrients. Lean proteins and complex carbohydrates, like brown rice and quinoa, are also part of a healthy diet. And minimize processed foods, sugar and foods and beverages that have no nutrients, like pop.

Although it can be challenging to do all of these things on an ongoing basis, try as much as you can—it is the best way to support your overall health and immunity. Consistently taking good care of yourself is key!


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