Wintertime and the holiday season can often see an increase in illnesses and respiratory infections including colds, influenza and COVID. Sickness can be very disruptive to our daily lives; resulting in time off from work/school and often having to cancel or miss social functions. Such illnesses can be especially concerning for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, COPD, and heart disease as they are at more risk of complications and hospitalization from such illnesses. Therefore, staying healthy and avoiding illness are a key part to managing these conditions. Here are 10 tips to help you avoid illness: 

Healthy diet: You have likely heard that certain micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) such as vitamin C are important for our immune systems. The best way to obtain such nutrients is through a balanced diet which includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. The micronutrients our immune systems need include: 

  • Vitamin B6 (found in poultry, fish, bananas, green veggies and potatoes with the skins) 
  • Folate (found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, beans, liver, and whole grains) 
  • Vitamin C (found in citrus fruits, cantaloupe, broccoli, and bell peppers) 
  • Vitamin D (produced naturally in our skin when exposed to sunlight and can also be found fish and fish oils. Some foods like cereals and dairy are fortified with vitamin D.) 
  • Vitamin E (found in nuts and seeds, spinach, and broccoli) 
  • Zinc (found in oysters, meat, beans, and dairy) 
  • Magnesium (found in whole wheat products, nuts, and seeds) 

Try to include immune “power foods” in your daily diet like citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges and grapefruit which are high in vitamin C. Bell peppers are great to snack on as they are also high in vitamin C, about three times as much as an orange! Foods containing probiotics such as yogurt and sauerkraut may also help to ward off sickness; eating them along with prebiotic fruits and veggies helps the beneficial live cultures grow within your digestive tract! Also, garlic, turmeric and many fresh herbs have anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties. So, be creative with adding them to your favorite dishes for extra flavor or try a spicy Indian curry to power up your immune system! 

If you feel like you need a little extra help getting all the immune supporting nutrients needed, and would like to try supplements, make sure to talk to your healthcare provider about which ones are actually beneficial and appropriate for you. Some supplements can be detrimental for certain health conditions and/or interact with your prescription medications, so it is important to discuss this with your medical provider before taking them. 

Get plenty of good sleep: Our bodies need on average seven to eight hours of sleep daily to be able to function properly. Sleep can help the body grow the “immune memory” so that it knows how to fight an illness after being exposed previously. Good sleep also has been shown to lower allergy sensitivity. Click here for tips on getting better sleep.  

Regular physical activity: Physical activity is beneficial for the body in so many ways; it can help you sleep better and manage anxiety and stress which is important for a healthy immune system. It also promotes good circulation to allow immune cells and nutrients move through the blood stream and into the tissues where they are needed. A good goal is to complete 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week (or 30 minutes 5 days a week); but make sure to talk to your health care provider before starting an exercise routine if you are new to activity. 

Reduce risks: Quitting smoking, or at least cutting back, is key to a healthy immune system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Smoking can make the body less successful at fighting disease. Smoking increases the risk for immune system problems, including rheumatoid arthritis.” Smoke also damages the lungs’ mechanism for moving mucous and foreign particles out of the airways which can lead to respiratory infections. 

Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption is also recommended for a strong immune system. Moderate alcohol use is considered 1 drink or less per day for women and 2 drinks or less per day for men. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to many chronic health conditions as well as a weakened immune system. 

Hand Washing: Regular hand washing has been shown to help prevent sickness by washing away germs our hands come into contact with before they are transferred to the rest of the body by touching the eyes, nose and mouth. Wash your hands with soap and clean, running water for at least 20 seconds. Click here for a list of key times to wash your hands. 

Avoid crowds, take airborne precautions and don’t go out when sick: If you have a chronic health condition that puts you at increased risk of complications from infectious diseases, it is important to avoid places and events where there will be large groups of people as there is more of a chance of catching an illness. Try to plan your trips to the grocery store around peak times and consider skipping the big holiday parties this year and opt for a more intimate celebration at home with a couple of close family members or friends. If you must be in a crowd or are traveling on an airplane, consider wearing a high-quality mask like a N95 or KN95 to protect yourself from airborne particles that cause covid, the flu and many other respiratory illnesses. Also, if you feel under the weather, avoid going to work or social gatherings to keep from spreading the sickness to others. 

Control your health conditions: Another way to avoid sickness and complications is by making sure any medical conditions you have are well controlled. Making sure your blood sugar and blood pressure levels are within your goal range and being careful to take your medications regularly as prescribed reduces your risk of illness and complications. 

Hydrate: Water is essential to our bodies. Staying hydrated is important for our immune systems as it helps blood and lymph fluid have plenty of liquid to circulate throughout the body. A general recommendation for water intake is around 1 ounce of water per kilogram of body weight. You are more likely to drink water you have it handy, and it is at room temperature. Click here for more info on the benefits of hydration. 

Reduce stress: Stress can be detrimental to our health in many areas, including our immune systems. Chronic stress can lead to sleep disturbances, elevated blood pressure, and unhealthy eating habits, all of which negatively affect our body’s ability to fight off illness. It is important to find ways that help you cope with stress; activities such as exercise, socializing with friends/family, deep breathing, as well as prayer, practicing gratitude/reflection have been shown to help with managing stress. 

Stay current with vaccines: Your immune system works by identifying germs that cause sickness and then attacking and killing them. Vaccines give the immune system a “leg up” by helping it learn how to attack certain germs so that it can recognize and effectively attack them the next time your body becomes infected with that germ. Staying up to date with routine vaccines and talking to your doctor about any additional or seasonal vaccines that may be right for you will help to ensure your immune system is strong and ready to go this winter season!