It’s almost impossible for family members to avoid picking up a few coughs, colds, or illnesses, especially during winter. And once one of you has it, you can pretty much guarantee that it will do the rounds of the entire household (just consider yourself very unlucky if it goes round to hit you twice!).
However, by boosting your family’s immunity you can help to reduce the number of viruses and illnesses that family members pick up. Better immunity can also result in shorter illnesses with less severe symptoms. So here’s some tips on how you can keep everyone’s immunity ready for action.
1. Food and nutrition
This one’s a no-brainer and fits in with every other healthy diet message you’ve ever read in the last 20 years – eat a variety of foods including lots of fruit and vegetables as part of a balanced diet.
Fruits and vegetables are nature’s immunity heroes. They are rich in nutrients like vitamin C (especially citrus fruits) that boost our white blood cells to fight off viral diseases like the flu.
Other immunity-boosting foods:
- carrots – rich in beta-carotene that fights against infection (also in sweet potatoes)
- salmon/sardines – a source of omega 3 to aid circulation and reduce the risk of inflammation
- garlic – a source of allicin, which stimulates the immune response, and rich in selenium and zinc that help to prevent flu and other diseases
- nuts (almonds, chestnuts, walnuts) – rich in vitamin E
- dark leafy greens – contain antioxidants and vitamins to help fight against infections
- onion – with quercetin, an immunity system booster
- mushrooms (shiitake and shimeji) – contain lentinan which increases production of defence cells
- coconut oil – for lauric and caprylic acid with antiviral and antibacterial properties
- green tea – detox and speed up metabolism
- honey – rich in vitamins and minerals which help form antibodies
- pumpkin and sunflower seeds – contain zinc to help fight off colds and infections (also present in red meat, fish, beans and eggs)
- ginger – bacterial properties
- probiotics – those good bacteria, found in natural yoghurts, strenghten the immune system
- elderberries – with flavonoids to help stop viruses or recover quicker
- green juice – those green smoothies and juice drinks may look not-so-great, but they contain an abundance of vitamins to increase immunity
- eggs – the yolk contains zinc and selenium
Sugar is the baddy here – consuming too much sugar (or foods that convert to sugar too quickly) hampers the immune system.
2. Healthy living
Here come all those bad vices that we, as adults, tend to indulge in way too often! If you want to boost your immunity, exercise regularly, keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water, don’t smoke, drink alcohol in moderation, maintain a healthy weight and practice good hygiene to avoid infection and stop the spread of germs.
Research from the University of North Carolina found that people who are active and fit are less likely to suffer with winter illnesses. When they did contract a cold or other illness, symptoms were fewer and less severe. There’s no need to start running marathons – just a half hour of brisk walking each day will make a big difference. For the kids, the trampoline or bike riding is a great way to keep fit, or head off to the park to kick a ball around after school – they are more likely to enjoy it if you join in too!
Role modelling healthy living is the first step to getting your kids on board. Remind them to wash their hands after using the bathroom or handling pets and before eating. Regular bathing and brushing teeth twice a day will help keep kids healthy too. Provide a healthy choice of foods and take part in exercise together.
3. Get some sun
When our skin is exposed to sunlight it produces vitamin D. This has the ability to modulate our immunity responses and a deficiency in vitamin D can result in an increased susceptibility to infection. We are lucky in this country that we still see a good amount of sunshine, even in the winter months. So make the most of opportunities to enjoy that sunshine. Always remember to be sun smart when outdoors, even in winter.
4. Get lots of sleep
Just as your body benefits from moving, it also needs rest periods. A good 8 hours sleep is recommended for adults and more for growing kids. Deep sleep stimulates and re-energises your immune system – something that you will notice if you suffer even a few days of little sleep. Being run-down leaves you more susceptible to illness. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, a bedtime routine (just like you do for your baby!) can help. Turn lights down low when bedtime is approaching, avoid caffeine, read a book and avoid the bright galare of those smartphone and tablet screens.
5. De-stress and have a laugh
Prolonged and continued stress can make us vulnerable to illness and disease. So it’s important to try and minimise the stresses in your life and in your children’s lives.
Provide yourself and your family members with plenty of opportunities to unwind – whether it be a family walk, meditation, yoga, a warm bath, or just watching the clouds go by! Connect with friends and family on a regular basis and do things that you enjoy – movies, games, dancing, music – take the opportunity to forget about your worries for a while. If stress is becoming a worrying issue for you or a family member, consider discussing it with your doctor or a health professional.
Laughter really is the best medicine and can decrease stress hormones instantly. Get your laughs on by telling jokes and funny stories, watch a comedy movie or TV programme, or even just share a funny meme (we highly recommend cat videos too!).
And most importantly … immunise!
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