11 Ways to Boost Your Immunity During Winter

New Yorkers share tight small spaces, like subway cars, city buses, yoga classes, and office space.  When winter arrives, germs spread quickly across the city.  I’ve grown to love living in an area with such a sharp change of seasons, where I can appreciate different types of atmosphere. Of the four seasons, winter is most challenging for my equatorial genes, so I always mount a game plan.  A few lifestyle choices and dietary adaptations go a long way. Here are some things to consider when you’re staring down cold and flu season.

Eat as much Seasonal, Local, and Home Cooked Food As Possible

Locally grown food is adapted to your region and designed to fight local pathogens.  Our bodies get more in sync with the natural world when the food is fresh and does not have to be transported long distances to reach us.  Our internal environment is then composed from the best of our external environment.   Living in NYC, almost all of my food comes from the Union Square Farmers Market. I’ve been shopping there consistently for ten years, and have personal relationships with most of the farmers.  All of the food comes from within a four hour driving radius of Manhattan.  Contact with the farmers creates intimacy between the food, my body and the quality of my mind I compose by eating fresh ingredients. I literally feel great about what is going inside of my mouth, and fueling me. I know that the food is not sprayed with chemicals, how it was raised, and what type of soil or foods it was nurtured on.  The farmers follow the seasons and come to town with crops that flourish particular to the time of year. There are a few non-local essentials that I need for cooking. I go to whole foods market for olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, avocados and spices.  Eating local will definitely boost your health year round, but pays extra dividends when everyone around you has the sniffles, come winter.

Eat Mushrooms

Mushrooms are immuno-modulators, helping to regulate our immune function. They help to activate macrophage (large white blood cells) and natural killer cells that are part of our immune defense.  They have high levels of beta-glucans, which protect against viruses and colds and inhibit the growth of cancer tumors.  I add mushrooms to my salads, soups, and scrambled eggs. I get shiitake, lion’s mane, and oyster mushrooms from the farmers market. There are lots of studies showing that reishi mushrooms boost gut immunity.  Mushrooms add texture and color to my homemade dishes.  

Tea Instead of Coffee

Green Tea is loaded with antioxidant rich flavonoids, that will boost your immunity. The polyphenols in tea help to protect against free radicals which damage our DNA and lead to disease. Tea drinkers have a lower level of cortisol (compared to coffee drinkers), an adrenal hormone, after dealing with stressful situations. You’ll get a calmer lift from tea, enjoying a sustained level of energy with lots of immune benefit. I take coffee once a week when I walk my dog on Saturday mornings. On all other days, I use water or tea.  You may notice a huge, positive change in your energy level by giving up your daily coffee.

Rev-Up Your Antioxidants

Nutrient dense foods boost the immune system and help to balance our hormones. Berries are loaded with micronutrients, especially blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Hot cacao, is packed with antioxidants and magnesium.  Also go for cruciferous vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower.)  All of them have been shown to boost immunity and prevent cancer.

Use Ferments

I’m all over kimchee, sauerkraut, and kombucha year round. In the winter I add in miso soup twice a week.  These foods promote a healthy gut and aid in digestion.  

Get a Minimum of 6-8 Hours of Sleep Per Night

Our bodies establish an internal rhythm when given adequate rest.  A lot of our metabolic processes rely on rhythm.  Work demands may increase during the first quarter but if your nervous system is getting time to recuperate, you adapt to external stress and find equilibrium. The key is removing beta amyloid plaques in the brain, which are formed when protein pieces clump together.  The small clumps may block cell-to-cell signaling at synapses. They also activate immune system cells that trigger inflammation The lymphatic system clears metabolic wastes from our brain, and the rate of removal is significantly increased during sleep.  In conjunction with healthy nutrition, adequate rest will promote strong cognition and aids optimal functioning of the endocrine system so our hormones are balanced.

Pick a Mindfulness Practice

Meditation will work for some folks, while closing the eye and sitting still can drive others mad.  The key is to block out about ten to twenty minutes every day, where you slow down, and take at least a few deep breaths.  Look at it as your “alone time,” a chance to reflect on the day to come, or a re-cap of all that has happened. We can benefit from having a processing technique that gets us in touch with our experiences, how we were affected, yet choosing to not taking things personally. It’s a practice of letting go, not clinging, and allowing stress to move through the body-mind system without sticking to us.  If meditation is difficult, perhaps take a dance class, go for a solitary walk, listen to your favorite music, or write in a journal.

Get Some Sunshine

Vitamin D is synthesized from sunshine in our skin.  It assists proper heart function and helps shut down cancerous cells. On nice days I take a walk outside, but sometimes it’s still not enough.  Solgar vitamins makes a vitamin D supplement that does the trick for long, dark winter days.

Strength Train

The immediate adaptive responses to strength training include thicker tendons, stronger bones, better proprioception (the ability to sense stimuli arising within the body regarding position, motion and equilibrium,) and increased reaction time. All of this comes in handy when the sidewalks are icy and we are prone to slips, trips, and falls.  Strength training is very mentally grounding and we plug into our bodies in a powerful and visceral way. That sturdy feeling is insulation for below freezing temperatures that accompany January, February, and March.  You don’t even have to go to the gym; morning push-ups, squats, lunges and a few planks will improve your strength and muscular endurance.  A twenty minute, full body calisthenics routine, performed two or three times  per week is all you need!

Wash Your Hands

Soap and water works wonders. I’m all about Dr. Bronner’s soaps which have natural antibiotics and clean the skin thoroughly.  Bus and subway poles, public seats, desks, and doorknobs are loaded with germs.  Wash your hands several times throughout the day.

Snuggle

Sharing body heat with a loved one reduces stress, fights isolation and depression, while making us feel more connected to others.  We invest positively in our society when we feel warmth and love. During winter, snuggling helps us to connect to the sun inside of our own hearts, while the actual sun is at its furthest point from the earth.  Twenty to thirty minutes of snuggling has been shown to promote a sense of well being and improved hormonal balance.

Healthy choices and proper rest influence which genes are flipped “on or off,” and determines how our genetic code expresses itself. This influences how quickly we are able to find equilibrium during extreme times, like during the colder days of winter.  Our lifestyle choices can strengthen us to better face the environment.   When prepared for the season, it’s easier to feel like we are a part of nature, flowing seamlessly with the changes of time.

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