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3 Ways To Protect Yourself Against Colds And Other Bugs This Winter

Vogue Arabia, September 2020. Photo: Desiree Mattsson

While stress is a significant cause of long-term absences, 94% of short-term leaves from offices are usually due to minor illnesses, such as colds and sickness bugs. As we head into winter and the start of cold and flu season, the need to maintain a healthy immune system is greater than ever. Here’s how to keep your immune system, and you, fighting fit.

Eat well and chew properly

Eating a varied and healthy diet that’s abundant in plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholefoods is crucial for maintaining a strong immune system. As well as providing important nutrients and vitamins such as zinc and vitamin D which help fortify the immune system against pathogens, eating lots of fibrous foods helps support a healthy gut microbiome. With over 70% of the immune system located in the gut, keeping it in good health is an essential first line of defence against winter bugs and bacteria.

It’s not enough just to eat wisely, how you eat matters too according to a joint study from The University of Manchester and the National Institutes of Health in the US. Chewing your food properly supports your immune system by secreting Th17 cells in your mouth. These cells assist B cells to make antibodies, activate the microbe killing capacity of specialist cells and recruit other immune cells to infected parts of the body. According to experts, aim to chew everything around 30 times.

Don’t skimp on sleep

A more robust immune system is closely linked to regular good quality sleep. When you sleep, your immune system releases anti-inflammatory cytokines, signalling proteins that control the production and activity of other immune system cells and blood cells and message the immune system to do its job. Conversely when your natural circadian rhythms are disrupted and sleep quality or duration starts to slip, too many inflammatory cytokines are triggered, resulting in elevated inflammation and an immune system that is compromised and ill equipped to deal with passing pathogens. Although how much sleep you should get is down to the individual, aim for between seven and nine hours a night.

Increase your cold water exposure

Adding cold showers into your autumn routine may not be appealing, but the benefits to your immune system are plentiful. The shock of the cold water triggers the release of infection-fighting white blood cells called leukocytes, which hunt out and destroy any circulating viruses in your bloodstream. One study in The Netherlands that asked people to take cold showers every day for 30 days, reported a 29% decrease in incidences of illness amongst participants. Cold water exposure, whether it’s cold showers or cold water swimming also helps the body produce protective antioxidants including glutathione which combats the effects of oxidative stress in the body which can contribute to diseases. Its effects are felt on the lymphatic system too, causing lymph vessels to contract and work harder to flush waste, microbes and bacteria from cells.

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