It’s no secret that when temperatures drop, so too do our motivation and energy levels. Throw in the flu and stomach bugs and it’s no wonder we dread the cooler months. In 2014, there were almost 68,000 laboratory confirmed cases of the flu in Australia – the highest number of cases recorded in any year to date. Yet winter doesn’t have to be the season of sickness. We have expert advice on how to stay healthy and keep those nasty viruses at bay.
According to personal trainer Nardia Norman, stress, sleep, nutrition, movement and hygiene all help to keep the immune system in tip-top shape. “[It] is affected by each and every one of these lifestyle factors, so if you are constantly in a stressed state, getting poor quality sleep, over-exercising and not eating well, then you will compromise your immune system,” she says. “Our body is a complex system comprised of many systems and if one system is damaged or interrupted, then there will be a carry-over effect to another part.”
Take your vitamins
“There are a huge number of factors that can impact our immune system and thus our ability to fight off infection from the many viruses and other bugs we are exposed to on a daily basis,” says sports nutritionist and dietitian Belinda Reynolds.
“Ensuring you have no nutritional insufficiencies is an important place to start when looking to maximise your natural immune defences. Vitamin D deficiency is emerging as an incredibly common problem in Australia. During winter, the number of hours we spend exposed to the sun significantly decreases, reducing our ability to synthesise vitamin D in our body,” she explains. “Other nutrients important for healthy immune defences include vitamin C, vitamin A and zinc, while herbs such as echinacea, andrographis, elderberry and olive leaf have a long history of use for supporting immune health and shortening the severity and duration of mild upper respiratory tract infections when taken at the right dose.”
To build your immunity and ward off the flu, it’s essential to eat a well-balanced and nutritional diet. “Vegetables contain a load of micronutrients that are needed for thousands of different functions in our body,” explains Nardia Norman.
“The immune system relies on some of these micronutrients to function, so eat vegetables at most meals. Include loads of soups and bone broths.”
Former trainer on The Biggest Loser and author of You Beauty!, Tiffiny Hall, recommends adding garlic and ginger to your cooking and stocking up on leafy greens and citrus fruits. “Dark leafy greens, such as kale, chard and collards, thrive in the chill. These greens are particularly rich in vitamins A, C and K, that will help to fight winter bugs,” she says. “Not only will ginger help to cleanse the sinuses and prevent the build-up of toxins that cause infection, it will also help the lymphatic system, your body’s sewage system.” Garlic works against viruses, bacteria and fungi.
We all know the chilly season is generally the time when we see the number rise on the scales, but don’t worry, you’re not alone. “Humans are naturally hardwired to put on a few extra kilos over the winter months. However, it is important to be mindful and not use the cold as an excuse to eat everything in sight,” says Nardia Norman. Many people tend to shift their exercise activities indoors to avoid the cold, but Nardia says do what works for you. “There are no ‘better’ forms of exercise for winter. The best form of exercise is the kind that you can stick to, consistently,” she says. “It is, however, a good time to try something different; pick up that dance class you’ve been thinking about, try some trampoline classes or join a gym.”
Good hygiene is the first line of defence against a flu infection. This is because influenza is usually spread from person to person, or when people touch something that was recently contaminated with the virus and then touch their mouth or nose. To prevent this, wash your hands regularly, particularly before you eat. “Be extra diligent with hand washing, especially if you work in a corporate office or an area where there is a greater chance for contamination,” warns Nardia. Anti-bacterial hand gels are great for those travelling on public transport or who are unable to wash their hands during the day.