Healthy Habits That Fend Off The Flu

It’s next to impossible to get through winter without being exposed to the flu, which is why so many people do everything they can to avoid getting sick. Normally that includes smart actions like getting the flu shot and washing your hands as often as possible, but there’s another important step to take: Keep your immune system as strong as possible. Don’t get overwhelmed thinking this is yet another thing you have to do! 

The healthy habits you already try to add into your days happen to also strengthen your immune system. How’s that for a win-win? Here are the key ones to focus on:

Getting a solid night’s sleep. It seems like everyone skimps on getting seven-to-nine hours a night, but that doesn’t do your immune system any favors. “There is a lot of research out there showing that if you interrupt people’s sleep, their body has an inflammatory response,” says Tim Mainardi, MD. “That inflammation activates your immune system, wasting its energy and making it less capable when it needs to fight a real virus.”

Keeping up with your workouts. Here’s another reason to make good use of your gym membership: Research shows exercise can help reduce your risk for getting sick. That half hour on the treadmill is anti-inflammatory, which improves how well your immune system functions.

Reducing stress (for real!) Whether it’s caused by work, family, or some other worry, being stressed out sets you up to get sick. You can thank the high cortisol levels it brings on. “This leads to chronic inflammation, which wastes your immune system’s energy,” says Mainardi.

Eating colorful fruits and veggies. It’s always a good idea to pack your plate with all the antioxidants you can, but this is especially true during cold and flu season. “Vitamin C is the antioxidant everyone thinks of, but cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale are also full of them,” says Mainardi.

Taking care of your gut. “Eighty percent of your immune system lives in your GI tract, and the type of bacteria there has a big influence on it,” says Mainardi. Feed your immune cells the good stuff: probiotics (in yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut) and prebiotics, which are in lots of fiber-rich foods.

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