‘Tis the season again–the time when everyone seems to be sniffling, sneezing, and coughing. But just because cold season is upon us doesn’t mean that you have to fall victim to it. Here are some simple things you can do every day to help support your immune system so that your body is better able to fend off germs, plus easy ways to overcome a cold faster if you do get sick.
1. Eat Well
It stands to reason that a diet filled with empty calories won’t give your body the ammunition it needs to fight off invading cold viruses. So start by cleaning up your act: limit your intake of processed foods, refined sugars and grains, and unhealthy fats. Then add foods to your diet that have been shown to support your immune system. For example, cooking with garlic is a tasty way to help you stay healthy. Garlic is rich in a compound called allicin, which has been shown to have antibacterial and antiviral properties that can help you ward off colds and flu. “It’s such a good defense against infection that it’s a good idea to include it in your diet regularly, especially during cold and flu season,” says Jennifer Mann, ND, a naturopathic doctor at One Medical Group.
2. Exercise Often – But Not Too Much
“Exercise definitely promotes a healthy immune system, so make sure to get some activity several days a week,” says Mann. Regular, moderate-intensity exercise may enhance your ability to produce antibodies. But when it comes to exercise, too much is not necessarily a good thing. Studies have shown that intense bouts of exercise (such as running a marathon) can actually weaken your immune system, leaving you more prone to infection. And once you’re already sick, it’s better to skip the exercise. “Your body is better off resting for a few days at that point, so stop exercising and give it time to heal,” says Mann.
3. Get Some Rest
“Getting adequate sleep–eight to nine hours a night–is one of the most basic things you can do to help yourself stay healthy,” says Mann. Sleep deprivation leads to overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol, which directly suppresses your immune system. So, if you’re routinely staying up too late, getting up too early or just not letting your body get the rest it needs, you won’t have the resources required to stay healthy when cold germs are all around you.
4. Manage Your Stress
Speaking of stress hormones, it’s well-documented that stress will weaken your body’s immune defenses. “People get sick much more easily when they’re stressed,” says Mann, “so anything that helps you blow off steam–yoga, exercise, meditation, journaling–is going to help you stay healthy.” She also recommends incorporating something as simple as a relaxing, five-minute breathing exercise into your daily routine. Her technique: Sit with your eyes closed and focus your attention on your inhalation and exhalation. Say to yourself, “I am breathing smoothly and rhythmically. I feel calm, renewed, and relaxed.” Spend five minutes thinking about nothing but your breathing, letting all other thoughts–and your stress–slip away.
5. Recover More Quickly
If you still get sick despite all of your precautions, you don’t have to sit back and suffer. Nor do you have to reach deep into the medicine cabinet for relief. “Zinc lozenges may reduce the severity and duration of a cold if you start using them at the first sign of symptoms,” says Mann. Look for lozenges that say, “zinc gluconate” on the label and that have no sugar added. And don’t bite or chew on them–just put one in your mouth, let it dissolve and repeat several times throughout the day. To relieve congestion without resorting to cold medications, use a neti pot or other sinus rinse (even a turkey baster will work!) as a way of flushing your sinuses with salt water to alleviate pressure and keep your head clear. You can also try vaporized eucalyptus oil: Boil a pot of water, take it off the stove, and add a few drops of eucalyptus oil. Then cover your head with a towel and inhale the steam.