There are lots of things that put stress on our bodies. The obvious stressors are things like:
- tensions at work
- arguments with your partner
- financial strain
- having too much to do and not enough time
- running late
- concern about the wellbeing of those you care about.
These are all emotional and mental stressors. There are also physical stresses on our bodies, such being cold, dehydrated, unrested, or malnourished. All of these stressors create a small immune response, so that your body is constantly repairing the damage that stress causes. Your immune system is sort of like the rescue squad in your home town; it has limited resources, so when it's working at half-capacity all the time, it's difficult respond with full force to a real emergency. When you are exposed to a virus or bacteria, your immune system doesn't have to resources to fight it off. The key to staying healthy is a strong immune system, and the key to strong immune system is a well-rested immune system.
So what can you do to give those guys some time off? The first thing is to get enough rest. We tend to squeeze by on a little less sleep than we need, depending on caffeine and sugar to get us going in the morning. We also stay up late (when it's dark out) and sleep into the day (when it's light out), which is less restful for your body than a sleep cycle that mimics the natural world. Ask yourself, honestly, how much sleep makes you feel great. Find out what time it gets bright out in the morning and go to bed early enough to wake up at that time.
The second easy way to give your body a break is to drink enough water. Being only slightly dehydrated puts stress on your cells and hinders your body's processes. Dehydration slows your mental reaction time and makes it harder to absorb the food that you eat. Help everything run smoothly by drinking lots of water all day long. Frequently, when we feel hungry in between meals, we are actually experiencing the first signs of thirst. Experiment with drinking a full glass of water when hunger or boredom strikes. Aim for eight tall glasses over the course of the day.
Another important way to protect your immune system is with exercise. Exercising creates endorphins, which help you process stress more efficiently. It also gets your blood and lymph moving around, which helps moves toxins away from your cells. Movement during the day will help you sleep better at night, which we've already learned is important for a strong immune system. At least 30 minutes of movement everyday is recommended, specifically exercise that raises your heart rate. Some days this can be as easy as walking briskly home from work instead of taking the bus, or making a point to go for a quick walk before your lunch break. Make exercise more fun by planning a hike with your family, or attending a yoga class with friend.
The last important piece to the immunity puzzle is diet. Lots of different foods are healthy, but the real immune-supporting champions are dark leafy greens. Greens purify your blood and improve circulation, and are high in almost every immune-supporting vitamin. Experiment with different greens, and try to sneak two or three servings into your day. My favorite is kale, sautéd with another simple immune-boosting food, garlic and onions. So many of my meals start with these two bulbs in pan with a little olive oil, and that's a great way to contribute to your immune system's resources.
So, what helps us stay healthy, over the course of a day?
- sleep ( 8 hours)
- water (a gallon)
- exercise (30 minutes)
- greens, also onions and garlic (2-3 servings)
I should also mention that stress reduction techniques, such as meditation, breathing exercises and laughing are really excellent at diffusing the stress that is unavoidable in our lives. Find time to be still, take deep breaths, and enjoy your life. Experimenting with these recommendations should make your immune system stronger, and make you more able to fight off colds and infections you might be exposed to.
What else do you do to fend off colds and keep your immune system strong?
(P.S. I am a Wellness Counselor in Boulder, Colorado. I teach women how to think and eat healthier to be their most radiant selves. My clients come to me overweight, stressed out and depressed, and transform their lives to experience energy, joy and self love. Learn more at IdealNourishment.com and read more blog entries here.)