Ten tips for reducing your risk of infections
With the global spread of COVID-19, people are becoming acutely aware of their own health and susceptibility to infections. Maintaining a strong immune system is key to preventing repeated infections. The good news is that simple lifestyle changes can make a significant difference to your ability to fight infections. So what are the ways in which we can build a stronger immune system
Ensure your vaccinations are up to date:
In the wake of winter flu, seasonal coughs and colds, it is important to ensure that you receive vaccinations to protect you. An influenza shot is recommended at certain times of the year. It is a good idea to check the best time to receive your vaccinations with your local doctor.
Make natural herbs and spices your best friends:
Cinnamon, a natural spice, is replete with polyphenols (antioxidants). It aids anti-inflammatory processes, improves blood sugar control and reduces “bad” cholesterol in our systems. There is some evidence to suggest cinnamon can contribute to a more robust immune system to ward off HIV infection. The Echinacea herb has also shown to be particularly useful as a herbal remedy to prevent viral infections. Liquorice was also shown to be beneficial in preventing severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS), which manifests with symptoms of pneumonia in affected patients. Other herbal remedies such as turmeric have powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Consume a nutritious, antioxidant-rich diet
Eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day regularly can provide your body with the nutrition it needs to ward off viral illnesses. Specific immunity-boosting foods such as turmeric, berries, citrus fruits and cinnamon contain vitamins that help your body mount immune responses. Drinking a cup of orange juice each day can also provide you with the much-needed vitamin C boost for your immune system.
Lead a healthy lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle encompasses approximately 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week. This can range from high-intensity activities such as sprinting and football to more relaxing activities such as swimming, yoga and pilates. Exercise is linked to an improved functioning of the immune system, possibly due to increased circulation of lymph fluid, the substance in our body which carries our infection-fighting white blood cells.
Consider smoking cessation
Smoking contains noxious substances which can contribute to an overall suppression of the immunity system and its ability to fight infection. Reducing or quitting smoking can improve lung function and reduce susceptibility to repeated infections.
Reducing alcohol consumption
Alcohol, similar to tobacco smoke, is another suppressant of the immune system. It can specifically increase vulnerability to viral infections such as influenza. The current Centre for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend adhering to a maximum of one alcoholic drink for women and two alcoholic drinks for men per day.
There is some evidence to suggest that taking a daily supplement of low-dose vitamin D can help prevent respiratory tract infections including the common cold, pneumonia and bronchitis. This is beneficial in terms of reducing the number of hospital admissions for these illnesses, but supplements are also available over the counter at pharmacies. It may be worth consulting with your regular doctor whether supplements are required and if you are at risk of vitamin D deficiency before taking the supplement.
Zinc is another essential mineral that has shown to reduce risk of common colds as it can interfere with the growth of rhinoviruses (the virus implicated in the common cold). It aids the functioning of key players of our immune system and thus reduces the severity of cold symptoms experienced and can shorten the recovery period. The optimal sources of zinc are dietary including pulses, legumes, chicken and vegetables.
Incorporate probiotic-rich foods in your diet
Probiotic-rich foods such as kefir, kimchi and plain yogurt are essential foods for your gut bacteria. Our gut bacteria play a huge role in the immune response to foreign viruses and bacteria. Nourishing these bacteria ensures a healthy gut and can prevent long-term health problems such as anxiety and obesity, but also provides a boost to your immunity.
Practice good sleep hygiene
A regular sleep cycle is essential for keeping all your bodily functions in order. Getting an early night’s sleep is especially challenging in the modern era. Try a few simple measures such as switching off phones before bed, having a hot herbal tea, or listening to sleep playlists on apps such as Calm.
Implementing simple hygiene measures
Washing your hands before or after eating food, cleaning your house and workspaces regularly and ensuring your dishes are clean is essential to minimise exposure to germs. Wearing a fitted mask when you have symptoms such as a cough or sneeze may also help prevent transmission to others and protect others from falling ill.
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