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How to boost your immune system this winter with sleep and other tips

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It's that time of year again when the wind picks up, and the skies grow darker – winter. It's the time of year when my nose, my throat, and my lungs become a battleground.

I have asthma, you see, so I'm always conscious of the colder months. If you're anything like me, you'll also be looking for ways to boost your immune system and avoid the cold and flu – not to mention the COVID-19 coronavirus. As a health nerd, I can help with that.

Let me first say that there's no single cure that'll completely prevent you from catching a virus outside of a vaccine. Besides the no-brainers like washing your hands, no hugging and no parties, the best way to avoid getting sick is to have a healthy immune system. So how do you achieve this? Let's start with the obvious.

Don't drink bleach

Yes, really. This is a no-brainer too. But with a recent CDC survey showing Americans have been drinking and gargling bleach1, it seems fear has thrown common sense out the window. Although you're probably smart enough to know how unsafe and harmful swallowing bleach is, I'm going to be extra cautious and ask everyone reading this not to do it.

Be wary of the advice you find online (even from us!)

I get that we're all looking to protect ourselves, but we should note that some advice you find online is dangerous, for example, taking huge amounts of vitamins. For all the charms of the internet and social media, there are also many flaws. The coronavirus has brought out a lot of online quackery, so please speak with your doctor before trying anything new.

Get the flu shot

I hate needles as much as the next person, but if they can save me from two weeks of near-death in bed, a nurse can jab me with as many needles as they like. If you have an underlying condition, the flu can also make you far more ill than the average bear. You may have heard how herd immunity works by now, so it certainly helps to get your shot.

Eat a nutritious diet

There is rarely a need to consume vitamins, supplements or swamp juice (it's a thing) if you eat a range of plant-based foods. Tonight, I definitely won't be eating from Uber Eats, I'll be cooking the seasonal veggies I have. It could be a cauliflower rice salad, roasted brussels sprouts or a creamy mushroom soup. I haven't decided yet. All I know is that a varied diet will give my body what it needs to boost my immunity.

Go outside to exercise

We might be social distancing, but it's worthwhile to go outside for a run each day. You'll not only be getting exercise but also the vitamin D your immune system needs. If it's too wet or cold, then I recommended checking out YouTube videos for an indoor workout. While some winter weight is forgivable at this time of year, you'll need to stay active to maintain proper blood circulation for your body.

Get enough sleep every night

It's proven that inadequate sleep weakens your immune system and makes you more prone to colds and flus. One study even showed that those who sleep less than seven hours a night were three times more likely to get sick compared with those who slept eight hours or more when exposed to the virus that causes the common cold.2 That virus belongs to the same family of viruses as the one that causes COVID-19.

Learn more about how sleep can boost your immunity

What else is there?

Yes, these tips are less interesting than the magical promises you'll find on the web. But sleep, diet, exercise, plus a flu shot is really all you can do to help your body maintain a healthy immune system. In doing so, you might just minimise your risk of getting the cold, flu or even the coronavirus.

If you're still eager to do something a bit extra, I recommend sticking to food, and even that in moderation. I've read somewhere that taking cinnamon and turmeric with black pepper can stimulate the immune system. I won't pretend to know the health benefits of that. To me, it purely sounds like a delicious recipe base for a warming curry – perfect for any winter.

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Andrew Mun

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Citations

1

Gharpure R, Hunter CM, Schnall AH, et al. Knowledge and Practices Regarding Safe Household Cleaning and Disinfection for COVID-19 Prevention — United States, May 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 5 June 2020.

2

Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Alper CM, Janicki-Deverts D, Turner RB. "Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold", Arch Intern Med, vol. 169, 2009, pp. 62-7.

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