Cold and flu season is here! This morning when I dropped my kids off at school there were 16 kids missing out of 50 due to illness. Seeing all these spaces on the list made me curious to come home and do some research to see what the scientific literature has found to be the best ways to prevent colds and flu. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the colder Autumn months are associated with the lungs which provide “defensive energy”; meaning our ability to maintain a good barrier between ourselves and the outside world. Here are some of the best ways that Western science has found to help keep our immune systems and lungs strong as we head into the holidays:
Crowded offices, schoolrooms and homes predispose us to sharing germs; higher humidity in these indoor spaces increases the risk of transmission because sneezed or coughed viral particles more readily enter into water droplets that can be inhaled. What to do? Beyond the obvious regular handwashing and sneezing into your elbow, minimize the use of the humidifier and open doors and windows whenever possible to let in fresh air.
Both the quantity and the quality of sleep play a role in immune function; make sure to get enough hours of sleep and try to minimize disturbances during the night.
Both too much and too little exercise tends to decrease immunity and increase incidence of infection. Consistent, daily, moderate exercise has been shown to prevent colds and flu.
While exercise will boost endorphins and immune function, chronic exposure to cold air during endurance exercise can damage bronchial and lung tissue. While you ski, snowboard, run, or skate in cold weather, wear a balaclava or neck gaiter to help warm the air you are breathing.
If you are doing some significant exercise, the most effective way to support the immune system is to ingest a carbohydrate-rich drink before, during, and after. This helps to moderate blood sugar and minimize the impact on immunity.
Generally keeping blood sugar consistent is also key for maintaining immune health. Minimize consumption of alcohol, white flours, and refined sugars, and eat a significant source of protein at least twice per day.
A couple of my favorite immune-boosting foods are jerusalem artichokes and coconut oil.