What you need to know about your immune system in winter

Do you suffer mood ups and downs during the winter months? If you’re like most of us, you’re probably being affected by the shorter daylight hours, colder nights and dull weather. However, there’s more than just your mood that may need a boost during a cold snap. Winter can wreak havoc with your immune system, too, meaning there is a a higher chance of you getting ill. So, what can you actually do to give it a boost and keep it high?

After speaking to a few vegetable seeds and wholesome suppliers I have a better understanding of how to best minimise illness and stay fighting fit this winter.

What is an immune system?

The immune system is exactly that – a system or a network of cells, organs and tissues working in unison to protect you by creating a ‘barrier’ that helps destroy germs and parasites by trying to get rid of any unfamiliar bodies. In simple words, if your immune system is healthy, then your body can fight off any harmful bacteria.

Immunisations

We take immunisations to make sure that we have the best chance of staying fit and healthy over the colder months. For those who are most at risk during the winter months, such as the elderly, there are free flu jabs. Some workforces also offer this service to their staff to try to restrict sick days. If you don’t fall into either of those categories, you can still pay for the immunisation at selected pharmacies. While the NHS recommends that you get your flu jab in October or November, you can still have the injection at any point of the winter.

Healthy balanced diet in winter

Healthy diet

What we eat is so very important to how we feel. There is a reason we’re recommended to have those famous 5-a-day fruit and veg. The immune system is like any fighting force and needs good nourishment to perform well. You should make sure you have foods enriched in vitamins to give yourself the necessary requirements especially in winter, when the seasonal fresh produce includes less variety.

Micronutrient deficiencies, such as zinc, folic acid and iron, can alter our immune systems for more than a season. Therefore, you shout try and eat foods rich in these nutrients. In winter you should be adding to your shopping basket lots of citrus fruits, red bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, poultry and sunflower seeds. Each are packed full of nutrients to help keep your immune system in good condition.

Health supplements

Vitamin supplements are a good way to boost your immune system if you’re lacking important vitamins from your diet. There are many vitamins in tablet and liquid form that can help you maintain a healthy and balanced diet. Due to short daylight hours in winter, it’s sometimes hard to get the required levels of vitamin D via the sun’s rays or through diet.

Vitamin C is a great immune system booster and vital in winter. If you don’t receive enough of this vitamin from your diet, for example with kale and oranges, you want to add a supplement to help keep your levels high. The lack in vitamin C makes you more prone to getting sick.

While vitamin supplements are a great addition to your diet, they shouldn’t be constantly used as an alternative to a good variety of food. It’s much more beneficial for your body if you get these nutrients through a food source as they’re are easier to absorb.

Keeping active

Exercise may be the last thing on your mind when you look at the dull, dark and cold skies. You may feel more inclined to curl up in front of the fire, but this isn’t necessarily the best option. Keeping active can help reduce your chances of getting a cold, flu or other illness as it can help flush bacteria from your lungs and airways. Raising your body temperature can also play a part in preventing an illness. The body heat during and straight after exercise can prevent bacteria from growing and ultimately fight any infection in a similar way it would if you had a fever.

Stress-free good sleep

Good sleep

Stress has been proven to have a strain on your immune system as well as your personal or work life. Trying to remove any stressful situations from your life wherever possible, along with getting enough sleep will help you immensely. Otherwise you will find yourself feeling run down, leaving your body susceptible to catching the common cold. During sleep, your immune system releases cytokines proteins. Some of these proteins aid your sleep, while others can fight off infections and inflammation, meaning it’s crucial to get a good night sleep to properly protect your body. It’s recommended that you aim for between seven and nine hours sleep each night.

Kick the habits

If you’re a heavy drinker or smoker then you should look to kick the habits when the colder months come along. There’s many health problems associated with smoking, one being that the immune system can be less effective due to the high levels of toxins in cigarettes. Which also means you’re more likely to get ill. Stop smoking chewing gum or lozenges can help to beat these cravings and are available in most high street stores.

Give yourself a great chance of staying fit this winter by incorporating the above points into your everyday life. It can be a long slog before we reach the bright summer nights once again, but by keeping your immune system working, you won’t feel worse due to illness.