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During the winter our immune system takes a lot of abuse, mostly due to a change in our behaviors. As the days get colder and shorter, we get less exercise and we see less sunshine when compared to the summer. We may have bad eating habits or we simply just stay inside more. How many of these behaviors can be avoided or done less? The answer is almost all of them! The first step to preventing illness is making sure we keep up with healthy practices that will help keep our immune system strong and working optimally. Good nutrition and getting enough exercise are a crucial first step to this upkeep. Managing stress and getting enough sleep can also directly impact our immunity. Those of us whom are chronically stressed or don’t sleep well, typically get sick more often and will stay sick for longer times.  Of course avoiding others that are sick and washing our hands frequently are always good practice.

Unfortunately, despite all of our best attempts most of us will fall victim to the flu or common cold at some time this year. So what’s next? Besides the obvious prescription of rest, nutrition is also important. We require a lot of nutrients and energy to fight infections, so if your diet isn’t all that great, you’re immune system will have a hard time fighting off an infection. A common approach when sick is to “FEED a cold and STARVE a fever” but science hasn’t confirmed whether this strategy actually works or if it is even healthy. So, the best thing that you can do is to listen to your body …EAT IF YOU’RE HUNGRY and DON’T EAT IF YOU’RE NOT.  If you are feeling well enough to eat, providing your gut with plenty of good bacteria is a good start. Pre and probiotic foods help to build up healthy bacteria in our gut that helps to fight infection. Try to get 3 servings of prebiotics and 2 servings of probiotics every day.

Prebiotics include:
Vegetables like asparagus, garlic, artichokes, and onions
Carbohydrates like barley, beans, oats, and quinoa
Fruit like apples, bananas, berries, and citrus fruits
Fats like flax and chia seeds
Probiotics include:
Dairy like yogurt, cheese, and kefir
                             -Look for foods that have live and/or active bacterial cultures
Fermented products like miso, kimchi, and tempeh

There are plenty of “super” foods that can help us through sickness as well. Chicken soup, a fan favorite, provides your body with fluids and electrolytes as well as anti-inflammatory nutrients that can help ease your symptoms. Honey is an effective cough suppressant that also has good anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties. Green tea can boost B cell antibodies, and helps flush invading pathogens from our bodies, just like chicken soup can. Garlic has been found to have good antibiotic properties that can lessen the severity of colds and infections.

What about exercise? Should you be working out when you’re sick? Truthfully, depending on the severity of your symptoms, you should never stop being active. But just like how you should listen to your body to decide if you should eat when sick, you can do the same for exercise. If you are too sick to even get out of bed then obviously exercising is not going to happen. On the other hand, if you’re symptoms are just making you feel a little under the weather then light exercise, by yourself, indoors is a good idea and can actually help to fight off an infection.

CONSIDER doing these when you’re sick:

AVOID these when you’re sick:

Keep in mind that exercise can both positively and negatively affect your immune system depending on the duration, intensity and type of exercises performed. For example, short vigorous bouts of exercise do not seem to have any direct effect on the immune system and prolonged sessions (more than 2 hours) can actually inhibit your immune system. However, moderate intensity exercise lasting around an hour can boost immune system function. If you consistently exercise most days, your immune system and your muscles will get stronger.

When it comes to your health, prevention is always the best practice. Moderately exercising most days of the week and eating a variety of whole, minimally processed foods should be your first step. Along with proper exercise and nutrition; managing your stress, consistently getting a good night’s sleep, and washing your hands regularly will lead to getting sick less often.

If you do fall ill, let your symptoms be your guide. Eat if you can, and if you want to get some cardio in or some light weights; go for it! But if you want to stay in bed and watch old TV re-runs that’s OK too.