11 Ways to Boost your Immune System this Autumn
The season of colds, flu and generally feeling under the weather is upon us and if you're feeling a bit rundown, now is the time to start thinking about priming your immune system to fight off those cold weather bugs.
Luckily, there's loads you can do to support your body's ability to prevent illness and keep you feeling as energised and healthy as possible, from dining on seafood and making sure you get enough sleep, to exercising and even laughing more often.
1. Rustle up some chicken broth
Many people swear by a heart-warming bowl of chicken broth to help bolster their immune system and fend off cold and flu viruses during the colder months of the year. And several scientific studies suggest that chicken broth does indeed possess immunity-boosting properties. Research published in the American Journal of Therapeutics for instance shows that chicken broth contains a potent antioxidant called carnosine, which helps strengthen the immune system and stimulate the flu and cold-fighting response.
2. Get a good night's sleep
A convincing body of evidence shows that sleep deprivation suppresses the immune system and interferes with the body's ability to fight infection. The most recent study, published in the August issue of the journal Sleep, reported that people who don't sleep enough are at a higher risk of developing colds. Getting a good night's sleep is key if you want to help keep your immune system in tip-top condition, so do try to get around eight hours per night if you can, or slightly less if you're over 50.
3. Get the flu jab
Want to avoid the flu? As your GP will tell you, the best way to activate your immune system and protect yourself against the most prevalent strains is by getting the flu jab. Pregnant women, older people and people with certain medical conditions qualify for free vaccination but if you're not in one of these at-risk groups, you'll have to pay. Thankfully, the jab shouldn't set you back more than £20 and you don't even have to see your doctor. Many pharmacies offer the service, so getting vaccinated is easy and hassle-free.
4. Hug your loved-ones
A comforting hug can do more than just make you feel secure and loved. A study conducted last year by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in the US found that people who have greater social support and hug their loved-ones regularly are less likely to catch colds and other infectious diseases. Hugging is a great stress-reliever and given that stress can weaken the immune system and leave the body more vulnerable to infection, it makes sense that a nice hug can help support immunity and your ability to fight off disease.
5. Try eating seafood
If you're a fan of shellfish, you probably don't need an excuse to indulge, but here's another good reason to dine on prawns, mussels, scallops and so on during autumn and winter: they make for super-effective immune system-boosters. “Seafoods are full of protein needed to make infection-fighting white blood cells to help crowd out viruses,” says registered dietician Helen Bond. “They also contain zinc, which may help shorten the duration of colds.”
6. Pack in the cigarettes
If you're a smoker, stubbing out the habit will give your immune system a much-needed boost. Smoking can really mess with your immunity. The NHS Smokefree site lists everything from excessive inflammation and longer healing time to a reduced ability to stave off infections.
7. Wash your hands more often
It may seem like we're stating the obvious but you can do a lot to support your immune system and save it from working too hard by washing your hands with soap and warm water more frequently. An online campaign carried out last year by researchers at Southampton University encouraging people to wash their hands more often reduced general infection levels by 20%. You don't want to go OTT; up to 10 times a day is more than adequate as overwashing may irritate the skin. It's also a good idea to carry around a hand sanitising product that you can use when you're out and about.
8. Laugh your stress away
A good giggle can do more than just lift your spirits on a gloomy autumnal day. Scientists have studied the relationship between laughter and immune system response for decades and have found evidence that laughing increases antibodies and disease-killing cells in the body, as well as reduces stress, which can impact your immune system and leave you more vulnerable to infection. Take time if you can to have a laugh with your friends, family or work colleagues, watch some really funny comedy or silly videos on YouTube, whatever makes you chuckle, you'll be doing your immune system the world of good.
9. Stock up on probiotics
Several studies have suggested that the good bacteria found in yoghurt and other fermented foods may help strengthen the immune system as well as the digestive system. Research published in 2013 in the Journal of Science Medicine and Sport found that athletes who popped a probiotic supplement had 40% fewer colds than those who hadn't. If you can, increase your intake of probiotic foods like bio yoghurt, kefir and kimchi.
10. Hit the gym
Study after study has shown that moderate exercise supports immune function, and a wide-ranging review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2010 found that people who exercise more are less likely to suffer from colds and flu during the winter months. But overdoing the workouts can have the opposite effect. Research indicates that too much intensive exercise can actually impair the immune response and make you ill, so try to strike a healthy balance. As a guide, according to the NHS Choices site, adults should aim for 150 minutes of cardio and two sessions of strength training a week.
11. Go heavy on the garlic
While the evidence that increasing garlic intake may help prevent colds isn't 100% conclusive, many people find that a daily dose of one or two cloves helps stave off cold and flu during the autumn and winter months. If you're worried about the smell, think about taking an odour-free garlic supplement instead.