Many people come down with a cold or flu during the holidays because of stress, increased sugar ingestion, a change in the weather, or travel. Hugs and kisses add to the enjoyment of the season, but unfortunately they can also be a vector for unwanted viruses. If your immunity’s low, you’re much more susceptible to viruses setting up residence in your mucous membranes, which in turn can lead to upper respiratory infections and secondary bacterial infections. The good news is that there are many things you can do to keep your immune system optimally healthy.
Your lifestyle should enhance your health, not destroy it. If you find yourself getting frequent infections and feeling excessively tired at the end of the day, it may be a sign that you need what I call a “lifestyle tune-up.” Lifestyle tune-up tips include evaluating how you spend your time, eating an immune-enhancing diet, taking time for regular exercise, and getting enough sleep
Lifestyle tune-up tip #1: Take a good look at where you’re spending your time and energy. Roger Mellot, internationally-known speaker on stress management, emphasizes that you have a limited amount of energy each day, and asks you to evaluate whether you’re spending your time on the things you value most. He points out that your stress levels significantly increase when you spend most of your time on the things that you value least. For example, if your family is your primary value but is neglected because of demands at work, you’ll feel more stressed than if your primary value is your work. You’ll find that you have a much happier and healthier life when you decrease stress by getting clear about your values and living by them. He recommends that you identify your top three values and then prioritize your time according to what’s most important to you.
Lifestyle tune-up tip #2: A healthy diet is critical to maintaining strong immunity. For many of us, health is a primary value because, without it, we can’t possibly enjoy other values such as family, work and friends. The holidays bring lots of fun, but they also bring lots of sugary foods, which can decrease your immunity. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that sugar can impair the ability of your immune cells to fight infection. To keep your immune system strong, try to limit your sugar intake and increase nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and low-fat animal products. Also, increase your garlic ingestion; numerous studies show that garlic is an immune-enhancing food that also has potent antibacterial properties.
Lifestyle tune-up tip #3: Exercise is critical to a healthy lifestyle. Regular physical activity keeps your immune system functioning optimally. A study published in the August 2000 British Journal of Sports Medicine concludes that “moderate exercise across the life span seems to increase resistance to upper respiratory tract infections.” However, it’s important to be mindful of the word “moderate” because the article also states that “repeated strenuous exercise suppresses the immune system.” If you don’t already exercise regularly, let the holidays provide an opportunity for you to start enjoying some physical activity.
Lifestyle tune-up tip #4: Adequate sleep is also essential to a healthy immune system. I’m surprised to learn that many of my adult patients have trouble falling asleep, wake up often during the night, and sleep only five to six hours each night. A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine in January 1998 reports that sleep disruptions can have a detrimental effect on your immune system. The article also states that increased stress levels can raise stress hormones, which can prevent a good night’s sleep and result in decreased immunity. How much sleep is enough? You should wake up feeling rested. To create peak health, make a point to go to bed early and have a peaceful sleep.
While enjoying the fun and festivities of the season, keep your lifestyle tune-up tips in mind so that you can celebrate the holidays at your peak!
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com