6 ways to winter-proof your immune system

woman drinking orange juice in home office

Winter offers a lot to look forward to — the changing weather and extra time with friends and family. But the holiday season is also cold, flu and omicron season, and means more time spent indoors, which can make it easier to get sick.

Protect yourself and your loved ones from illness this winter with these six tips for a healthier immune system.

1. Reduce stress

Any kind of stress can weaken your immune system. Keeping yours healthy depends on managing your time, mindset and physical health.

Getting enough sleep is essential to alleviating external stressors. “There are more and more studies showing the importance of sleep,” says Kay Durst, MD, FAAFP, of Roper St. Francis Physician Partners Primary Care. “It’s very important to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night and to try to have a good sleep cycle. That definitely reduces your stress and helps your immune system.”

Staying isolated — although necessary during COVID-19 quarantine — can increase stress. If you’re feeling healthy this winter, making social connections can be great for your health. Reach out to people you know, join organizations, and feel encouraged to seek help when you need it. Particularly during the holidays, your mental health should remain at the top of your priority list.

Pets can help, too. “Having a dog or cat, someone you can be around and touch, can calm your nerves,” says Dr. Durst. “And, having a dog can help you get outside more and get more exercise.”

2. Mind your intake

Maintaining a healthy diet is key to a strong immune system. Especially during the holidays, be mindful of alcohol intake and snacking. Aim to drink plenty of water (at least eight eight-ounce glasses per day) and try to include a variety of plant-based foods in your daily menu.

“Fruits and vegetables have natural antioxidants that help protect our bodies from health conditions and from stress. Especially in the winter, when there may not be a lot of fresh produce available at your local market, you can still get most of those nutrients through frozen fruits and vegetables. You want to be careful of canned vegetables because they can contain added salt,” advises Dr. Durst. Winter vegetables, such as kale, collard greens and broccoli, are in-season during colder months and make great ingredients for meals and smoothies.

Cooking meals at home, eating non-processed whole foods, and opting for water, black coffee or unsweetened tea instead of soda can help give your immune system the boost it needs this winter.

3. Take precautions

Germs can spread rapidly in the company of loved ones. Look out for yourself and those you care about by making healthy choices. Wash your hands often, especially before you eat, shake hands or hug somebody. Make sure to wash your hands right away after you cough, sneeze or go to the bathroom. If you do get sick? Keep away from others until you’re fully recovered.

4. Get vaccinated

“Handwashing and vaccines have saved more lives in the history of medicine than anything else,” says Dr. Durst.

Make sure you are up to date with your vaccinations before you travel or see loved ones this winter.

5. Go outside

Sunshine and exercise are natural ways to improve your mood. Even as little as 10 to 15 minutes in the sunshine can increase immunity. But when the sun sets early, it can be hard to find time to enjoy the daylight.

Try to take a mid-day break to go outside and soak up the sun. Just remember to wear your sunblock!

6. Practice self-care

If you do get sick, be sure to practice self-care. Honey (if you are non-diabetic), herbal teas and hot soup can improve your health, clear nasal passages and get you back to feeling your best. If getting enough natural vitamin D is a struggle, a daily supplement may be right for you. Taking vitamin D and zinc supplements can help you feel better, faster. Be sure to talk with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter supplements in case they can cause side effects or interact with prescribed medication.

Need to make an appointment or find a primary care doctor? Give us a call at call (843) 402-CARE, or visit rsfh.com.