Bolstering immune systems – colds & flu
Wherever I turn at the moment I see signs of colds & flu – sniffing, sniffling, sneezing, wheezing and coughing. I’m sorry to admit that I’m not the most sympathetic of people.
I’m not saying I never get ill myself – I confess I did have a sneezy day about a month ago – but I’m generally fairly healthy. The last proper cold I remember was in February 2017 and I remember just battling through it, probably infecting many others around me. I’m not sure I’ve had full-blown flu before, or maybe I’ve just erased that one from my memory. I recall having had a few lingering coughs some winters, but these have typically been when I’ve been exercising less than normal e.g. when pregnant or with young children.
Today’s blog examines why we pick up colds and flu and what we can do to try and protect ourselves. This is particularly important as we approach the holiday season. Who wants to be ill while everyone else is relaxing and/or having fun?!
What are colds and flu and why do we get them?
The common cold, also known simply as a cold, is a viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract that primarily affects the nose.
Flu (influenza) is another common infectious virus. Flu is caused by a different group of viruses from colds. The symptoms tend to start more suddenly, be more severe and last longer.
Grossly, colds and flu viruses are most commonly spread via bodily fluid from coughs, sneezes and simply breathing in others’ germs.
Anyone can catch a cold or flu, but some people seem to suffer more than others. It isn’t entirely clear why this is, but it’s believed to be linked to our individual immune systems.
What do I mean by immune system?
The immune systemis the body’s defence against infectious organisms and other invaders. Through a series of steps called the immune response, the immune system attacks organisms and substances that invade body systems and cause disease.
How can we keep our immune system strong?
I am no medical expert. There are countless resources online about this, but they all boil down to the same kinds of advice:
Manage stress levels
If we’re often (or permanently) living under stressful conditions, this can impact our immune response.
Although research suggests that stress(in short bouts) can be a good thing, it can also have a negative impact on our immune systems. In large quantities over a period of time, cortisol, the stress hormone, can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system.
The key is to identify what causes you stress and look to reduce or mitigate these from your life, where possible. This can have a far wider impact than on colds and flu alone.
Eat a balanced diet
There are a number of theories on which items can help to keep you healthy, but generally having a good balanced diet including a mix of the components below:
- Vitamin C – via supplement form as well as in oranges and other citric fruits of which there are so many available at this time of year
- Vitamin D – generally advisable through a supplement during the winter months
- Onions and garlic
- MOA superfood drink – I have been taking this for a few months now and there are various purported benefits on immune systems and other health benefits
Ensure you’re taking on enough fluids – water, herbal teas etc – and not just caffeinated hot drinks. It’s important to distinguish being truly hydrated rather than simply drinking liquids, which could actually dehydrate us.
Don’t smoke and avoid excessive alcohol
Need I say more?
Get enough sleep and rest
We tend to need more rest at this time of the year. I certainly feel like hibernating during the winter months. Parties and other Christmas events can also cause havoc with our sleep patterns.
Try and ensure that you get enough sleep and follow regular sleep patterns where possible.
Take regular exercise
I know it can be particularly challenging finding the time or motivation at this time of year. Many people feel strangely much more motivated in January!
You don’t have to be running marathons or even going to the gym. Regular walks, taking the stairs over lifts and escalators, and maybe even the odd yoga or Pilates session can all contribute here.
These are available in the NHS to the more vulnerable, but anyone can buy one from a chemist. These will not protect from all strains of flu, but can certainly help.
Be aware of people coughing or sneezing in your direction. I sacrificed a tea on the train the other day as someone sneezed near me and I felt something hit my hand. I wasn’t taking any chances!
Hand-washing is also key to stop the spread of germs.
Regulate your temperature
This can be tricky at this time of year as we move in and out of hot and cold areas throughout the day. As someone who is rarely the right temperature, I generally wear layers, so I can layer up or down to regulate as I need to. This may take a little planning, but it shouldn’t be too difficult.
I love this guide to keeping healthy when Christmas shopping from fellow well-being coach, Julie Grint.
Why it’s important to protect against colds and flu?
I’m sure much of this is common sense, but I think it’s worth saying:
It can feel miserable!
This is especially true with flu, but also with colds and coughs that can linger for weeks…
It’s bad enough you being ill, but you don’t need to spread this to others around you.
It can be especially important not to impact more vulnerable people such as the young, the old and those already suffering with other illnesses.
It’s also important to limit spreading the virus more generally.
This can apply equally to work and home e.g. time out of work, keeping up with chores at home. Time rarely stands still and they’ll be even more to pick up on your return to normality.
Feeling ill can leave you vulnerable or susceptible to other things e.g. immunodeficiency. This can disrupt the body’s ability to defend itself causing allergies, easily contracting bacterial infections and viruses which can then lead to autoimmune diseases.
We never know when colds and flu can strike. Sod’s law is that it could be at the least convenient time, either when you’ve got a lot on or when you slow down for a well-deserved break.
This is most relevant to those who are business owners and self-employed if work is interrupted as a result. It can also be costly too in terms of medication and other ‘cures’.
What can we do to get rid of colds and flu?
I appreciate that avoiding colds and flu altogether would be preferable, but what can I do if I get one?
Here are a few suggestions:
- High dose vitamin C
- Hot honey & lemon drink
- Paracetamol and ibuprofen – these address the symptoms rather than the cause
- Cold / flu remedies
- Feed a cold / starve a fever
- Rest – sleep or just take it easy
- Fluids – you may be losing a lot of bodily fluids, it’s important to keep them topped up
- Keep warm – layers / extremities, hot water bottles
- Steam and infusion – from full blown steam room experience, to electronic steamer in your room to a bowl of boiling water. Infusing with something like eucalyptus can work a treat.
- Exercise – often kill or cure
- Hot toddy!
There’s rarely, if ever, a good time to come down with a cold or flu. While we can’t eliminate the chance totally, there are some things that we can do to put ourselves in a better position. Some of these suggestions may be old wives’ tales. Some may or may not work for you personally. But if whatever you’re doing isn’t working for you today, why not try something different?!
Thank you for reading. For more interesting articles, visit my blog at www.agelifebalance.com to learn more.