The combination of the holiday season and cold weather can be a double whammy on our immune system, which is often more susceptible during the winter months. Dr. Emily Senay offers tips on how to keep strong as the winter descends upon us.
Our immune system is a network of cells and organs that act as our body's defense against attacks by "foreign" invaders. The proper targets of the immune defenses are infectious organisms, viruses, etc. So it is important to keep your immune system strong in order to remain healthy and free of illnesses.
In addition to the obvious precautions, such as washing your hands often with soap and water, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and avoiding close contact with sick people, there are other ways to keep your immune system in check.
Here are Dr. Senay's tips:
Regular exercise can make your antibodies more effective at fighting bacteria and viruses. This doesn't mean you have to spend hours in the gym. Just 20 minutes of brisk walking five days a week is usually enough to maintain a healthy immune response. In fact, you don't want to overdo it. People who spend too much time in the gym may become more susceptible to colds because of the increase in a hormone known as cortisol, which can dampen our immune system. If it's too cold or snowy outside, pop in an exercise video or try to fit in a workout at home.
Be sure to watch what you eat. Keep away from the "comfort food" which usually contains fatty foods. A high fat diet reduces the germ-fighting power of key immune system components. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables rich in immunity-boosting nutrients, such as vitamins A, B6 and C. All these vitamins play a crucial role in keeping your immune system healthy.
Fresh fruit and vegetables also supply your body with antioxidants necessary to remove toxic chemicals our bodies produce, which can hamper our immune response. With the holiday season upon us, we may be more inclined to party a bit harder. But alcohol can have a negative effect on our immune system, so you want to be careful about how much alcohol you consume. And staying up too late at night is also not a good idea.
Burning the candle at both ends during the holidays can wear your body down. Make sure you're getting enough sleep at night and don't let your stress levels get too high. Too much wear and tear on your body during the winter will increase your chances of getting sick and hamper your body's ability to develop antibodies.
There's very little evidence echinacea does you any good. Many people believe they're a good way to fend off infection, but there's still a lot of work to be done in the scientific world to prove whether or not they are effective. Bottom line, you shouldn't depend on herbal supplements to get through this vulnerable time.
Health officials from the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group are predicting this flu season to be one of the worst in 30 years, and we already have seen several deaths in the country. So you want to make sure you're fully prepared. Although people over the age of 50 are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu, everyone should all consider getting a flu shot.
Even though health officials urge people to get a flu shot in the month of November, it is not too late to get vaccinated now. It takes about two weeks to build up antibodies to the virus.
Copyright 2003 CBS. All rights reserved.