Hands up who hasn’t had a cold or virus this winter? If that’s you, you’re either waiting your turn, or you have a strong immune system that can fight off whatever ever sniffling fellow commuters/colleagues/children project at you.
You may be diligently sneezing into your elbow to stop the spread of germs to your fellow beings, but not everyone is as bothered about their lurgy going viral.
So what can you do to stay as ‘immune strong’ as possible this winter?
1. Wash your hands to the tune of ‘happy birthday’.
Good hand-washing hygiene is a first defence against bugs and according to a survey earlier this year by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), 84 per cent of us don’t wash our hands for long enough to prevent viruses which can cause colds and flu, or bacteria which can cause infections such as upset stomachs or pneumonia.
Germs can lurk where you least expect - one study found that free weights at the gym alone can harbour 362 times the number of germs than found on a toilet seat!
In case you’re wondering, 20 seconds is what it takes – long enough to sing Happy Birthday twice. For failsafe handwashing technique, including interlocking fingers while you’re soaping, check out the RPS handwashing slideshow here .
2. Bug yourself.
“The best place to start for the prevention of infections is actually to boost our levels of good bugs!" says Seema Vekaria, Clinical Nutritionist at BioCare. “When researchers gave young children probiotics with a little vitamin C every day, they found that the children got fewer coughs and colds. If they did get an infection the symptoms weren’t as bad and they didn’t need as much medication. They also needed less time off school.”
The strain lactobacillus rhamnosus GG was also shown to be effective in reducing the number, severity and duration of respiratory tract infections in children, she says.
3. Get at least seven hours’ sleep.
Chronic lack of sleep has been linked to many conditions including obesity. It seems it also makes us more vulnerable to colds. Researchers at the University of California, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre attached volunteers to sleep sensors before giving them a dose of the common cold virus and monitoring them over a number of nights. Those who had less than five hours' sleep had an increase of four-and-a-half times the risk of catching a cold compared with those who slept for seven hours or more. A similar result was found for those sleeping five to six hours a night. Need help drifting off? Read our review of the best pillow mists here.
4. Reduce your stress levels.
A healthy immune system is sufficiently equipped to deal with foreign pathogens and most of the time infections are dealt with speedily before we’ve even noticed. But certain conditions can overwhelm the immune system, such as nutrient deficiencies, age, and medical treatments such as steroid and antibiotic use, allowing infection to take hold of us. Chronic stress is very common factor for most of us and has a key impact on the immune system. In winter, it may be more important than ever to manage stress levels. Try these stress-busting tips from therapist and anxiety expert Chloe Brotheridge.
5. Keep up the exercise, but skip the heavy workouts.
“Exercise in short to medium bouts has been shown to improve our immunity and therefore at a time when colds and other viruses are circulating, this can be a positive step to help,” Dr Michael Burdon, Consultant in Sport and Exercise Medicine and Head of Sports Medicine at Pure Sports Medicine told Get The Gloss.
“If you have a cold and feel well otherwise, it is generally safe to exercise, but any fever or other symptoms in the chest should mean you should avoid exercise until you feel fully better,” he cautions.
Stick to moderate exercise to support your immune function. One study found that a long duration of exercise (120 minutes) causes a temporary weakening of immune function, while short intense exercise (30 minutes) intense exercise doesn’t.
6. Top up on vitamins – especially A, C and D.
“Vitamin A is crucial for strengthening the gut lining which acts as a barrier against pathogens. It can also boost the activity of immune cells,” says Seema. Find it in liver, carrots, sweet potato, kale broccoli, eggs, butter.
Vitamin C is probably the first thing that most of us reach for when we’re coming down with a cold - and for good reason. “Vitamin C improves the function of immune cells and can decrease the duration of infection. It also supports the integrity of mucous membranes and protects cells from free radicals,” says Seema. Find it in red and green peppers, citrus fruits, kiwis, strawberries and even Brussels sprouts!
Public Health England advises everyone take as a vitamin D supplement in autumn and winter and it’s a key player in our immune army. “Vitamin D enhances the immune system’s ability to recognise pathogens and initiate a response against them, especially influenza (which causes the flu), tuberculosis and respiratory tract infections. The main natural source of vitamin D is sunlight, and as our sun exposure becomes very limited during winter, it is essential to supplement vitamin D to prevent deficiencies and boost immunity,” explains Seema. The recommended daily intake of vitamin D is 10 mcg per day.
Find it in oily fish, mushrooms exposed to UV light and eggs.
7. Don’t skip the zinc.
Zinc supplements have recently been shown by research (published in Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Open) to reduce the duration of a cold by a third. “Zinc is important for enhancing the activity of immune cells and supports the integrity of the respiratory tract,” says Seema.
Find it in red meat, oysters, nuts.