Boost your Immune System to Help Prevent Getting Sick this Winter
By Yehudit Garmaise
As the circulation of the viruses that cause colds, flu, RSV, and Covid increases with the colder air, New Yorkers can take many steps to bolster their immune systems to prevent getting sick this winter.
"It's particularly important right now to maintain your immune system so that you can fight viruses,” Neha Vyas, M.D., a family medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, told goodhousekeeping.com.
Here are four ways that powerfully fight off any viruses that circulate around us.
1. Get plenty of sleep: Not only does sleep provide energy and peace of mind, but when we are lying still in our beds, our immune systems are working overtime.
While we rest, our immune systems release proteins that help us to fight off infections and inflammation, which is why experts say that skipping hours of sleep can make us more vulnerable to illnesses.
Ideally, adults should aim to sleep for seven to eight hours a night, teens should get nine to 10 hours, and kids in elementary school need 10 or more hours of sleep every night.
2. Get moving, when you can: Exercise does not have to be super-intense to be effective. Daily brisk walks to do errands, riding on a stationary bike, while reading, using an elliptical machine, while listening to music, or dancing for fun for 20 to 30 minutes a day can significantly bolter your immunity.
Moderate physical activity also decreases infection rates for viruses, such as the flu and pneumonia, and also for bacterial diseases, such as whooping cough, strep throat, ear infections and urinary tract infections.
Regular exercise not only builds up immunity, but leads to weight loss, and improves people’s moods, by producing “feel-good chemicals,” said Dr. Vyas, an assistant clinical professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
In addition, exercise helps immune systems to prevent the buildup of fatty deposits in the heart's arteries.
Getting your blood pumping, therefore can prevent many diseases called by inflammation, such as heart disease, blood vessel disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease and other conditions.
3. Try to reduce stress: People who are regularly under stress are sending their bodies what amounts to constant “code-red responses,” which are not only exhausting and unpleasant, but they lower bodies’ abilities to create immune responses.
When we are in panicked states of “fight-or-flight,” our immune responses become secondary as our bodies and minds focus on fighting off what we consider “dangerous,” and threatening at that moment: even if it is “just” a traffic jam or a deadline at work.
“Over time, increased stress ups your body's production of cortisol, which can lower your body's white cell count,” explains Dr. Vyas. “That’s one of the mechanisms your body has to fight infection.”
To better lower the red alarms going off if your head and making your heart race all day long, many doctors recommend taking time, perhaps in the morning before starting your day, to pray, meditate, read, write, and set your intentions for a peaceful, happy day, in which you avoid conflicts with others at all costs, and do not “sweat the small stuff.”
4. Increase your vitamin intake: through choosing more plant-based foods, exposing yourself to at least 15 minutes of sunshine a day, and taking vitamin C, which many doctors say is “a powerful antioxidant that has a beneficial impact on the immune system by enhancing immune cell functions,” goodhousekeeping reported.
Smoking, drugs, and excess alcohol all decrease immunity, but many colorful foods provide high levels of vitamin C, such as red peppers, oranges, kiwifruit, green pepper, broccoli, strawberries, brussels sprouts (which can be bought checked for kashruit), grapefruit, tomatoes, and cantaloupe.
Photo credit: Flickr