Our bodies are amazing! From the moment we are born our bodies start building a defensive shield to protect us against the onslaught of bacteria. Our immune system hunt down invaders in the body and eliminate them. It also protects us by developing anti-bodies and immunity to certain “nasties” preventing us having the same illness again and again.
I don’t believe in pumping ourselves full of flu vaccine. What I do believe in is building healthy eating and regular exercise into our lifestyles so that it actually boosts our immune function! Healthy people are ill less often, recupperate quicker should they get ill, feel better in themselves, have more energy and are less stressed! However, when we run, especially if we’ve run hard, we leave a window of low immunity open for a while. This can leave us more prone to bugs and illness. That’s why it’s really important that us runners think about how we can minimise our risk of catching bugs – they play havoc with your running! Finishing your run and then not refuelling adequately, or going out for a run and then heading straight back into a warm, airconditioned, bacteria laden office with people coughing and spluttering, or not changing your clothes and being cold post-run, really doesn’t help ward off the winter lurgy!
Here’s a bunch of immune system boosting tips for the winter:
MAKE HEALTHY EATING A LIFETYLE CHOICE. A big key to a healthy immune system is to eat a healthy balanced diet. Fresh fruit and vegetables, carbohydrate, proteins and essential fatty acids all play a part in keeping our defences strong and fit for action. The key vitamins to support your immune system are zinc, iron, copper, selenium, A, B6, C and E. If you are concerned over a lack of any essential vitamins or minerals, a ‘top up’ in the form of supplementation is to consider.
KEEP THE CARBS! Complex carbohydrate plays an important role in supporting the immune function (and we’re not talking about white bread and pasta now!). The Atkins diet is not good for fighting the winter lurgy. Trying to loose weight quickly simply adds stress on your body. A steady weight management programme that is based on eating the right amount of the right foods at the right time, coupled with a regular, progressive and appropriate exercise routine is the way to go.
GO FOR PROTEIN! Protein and essential fatty acids are also vital for immune function. Protein is important to help your body recover and re-build your muscles after running. A lack of protein will mean that your body will not be able to repair itself adequately and you run the risk of getting over tired and run down. Great protein choices are lean cuts of meat, fish, dairy and eggs. For higher doses and other important amino acids, whey protein isolate supplemantation is to consider.
EAT THE ESSENTIALS! Essential fatty acids such as Omegas-3s in particular are good for immunity as they are an essential part of effective functioning of every cell in the body. Healthy cells mean that your body can function at its best. Omega-3s can be found in eggs, oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, and seeds or nuts such as linseeds/flaxseeds, sunflowerseeds and walnuts. A small amount of these foods should be present in your diet each day.
PROTECT WITH PROBIOTICS. Probiotics are ‘friendly bacteria’. Everyone needs these to survive. They help us to syntheses vitamins and help rid ourbodies of harmful bacteria found in the gut, such as viruses, helping stimulatethe gut immunity and enhancing our disease resistance. Probiotics can be eaten in foods such as live yoghurt, but it has been found more effective to stimulate the activity of existing healthy bacteria in the gut by eating certain foods such as bananas, asparagus, garlic, wheat, tomatoes and onions.
STAY CLEAN! Wash your hands regularly. Our hands pass over countless objects in the day that many people have touched, including money, door handles, pens, taps, hand railings, buttons on cash machines, telephones, computers, etc. The constant contact spreads virus. By washing your hands with soap and warm water for at least a minute, you will be reducing your chances of catching whatever lurks!
DON’T TOUCH! Avoid touching your face. Viruses like to get into your body through your eyes, mouth or nose.
EXERCISE. That’s right. The exercises you do is great immune boosting activity. Regular physical activity makes your body stronger and better at warding off bugs and viruses.
SELF PRESERVATION! When you see someone has a cold, cough, or other symtoms of the flu – steer clear! That might be tricky when they are your husband, partner, child or the person you sit next to at work, yet you can think about strategies to minimise physical contact when they are really ill!
NIGHT NIGHT SLEEPY HEAD! When you are tired, your body just can’t catch up and something has to give, and it’s usually your health. Avoid constantly driving yourself into the ground. Aim to get enough sleep (7-9 hours per night) so that you feel properly rested. At least once a week, try and wake naturally and not to your alarm.