According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), the typical adult gets 2-3 colds a year, which can translate into a lot of sick days, sleepless nights, and chapped noses.
Once the cold virus enters your system, there’s not too much you can do to make it magically vanish. It’s a biological process that needs to take its course. However, there are some things you can start doing now to stop a cold and help build up your immune system so you can decrease your chances of falling ill and increase your ability to recover from a cold much faster.
In a society where working more and sleeping less is a badge of honor, what is happening to your health is anything but honorable. Whether you’re recovering from a cold or trying to avoid getting one, studies have shown that sleep deprivation weakens immune health, making you more susceptible to colds and other bacterial infections. It also impairs memory, focus, psychological health and blood sugar balance. It can also lead to weight gain. Some say it’s just as damaging as stress on the body. When you’re sleeping, your cells, nerves and tissues have the opportunity to repair and renew. Your body goes into a state of detoxifying. It’s during this time that our bodies are most able to fight off infections and fevers. The goal is to aim for 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
Drinking adequate water helps to prevent dehydration and releases toxins and mucous congestion from the body. It also helps to oxygenate the blood (important for cellular health) and produce lymph, a fluid that runs throughout your lymphatic system that helps to destroy bad bacteria. According to Ayurveda, in order to flush out toxins, or ama, and build up immune health, sipping on hot water every 20-30 minutes throughout the day is the most beneficial. Hot water is easier for your body to absorb, stimulates digestive function and loosens up mucous more effectively than cold water. For an added boost, steep a few slices of fresh ginger in freshly boiled water and drink as an immune boosting herbal tea!
There’s no one food that will heal all of our cold symptoms. However, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthy fats and lean proteins is nature’s best cold defense. Consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables will provide your body with the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants necessary to boost your immune system and stay healthy all year round. Instead of counting calories at each meal, count the colors on your plate! Also, do your best to choose whole foods that are seasonal and organic whenever possible and limit alcohol, coffee, refined sugars and processed foods. During the cooler months, focus on more warming, cooked foods, and use spices such as turmeric, cumin and coriander to create delicious anti-inflammatory meals.
Scientific studies show that the immune system is directly connected to your thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce stress (the number one cause of health problems) and inflammation and improve happiness and our ability to deal with difficult emotions. In addition, research indicates that meditation increases activity in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus regions of our brains, which operate as our immune system’s command center. When these areas are stimulated, it improves overall immune function. If you’ve never meditated, start slow. Commit to just 5 minutes a day first thing in the morning of silent, mindful meditation and slowly work your way up to 20 minutes.
One of the most common causes of stress can be our relationships. Negative energy can be just as infectious as a disease. Whether romantic or platonic, it’s important to maintain positive relationships with people that are supportive, uplifting and have your best interest in mind. This will not only make you feel emotionally healthy, but physically healthy as well!
Regular exercise is not only shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and strengthen bones, but it has also been shown to improve gut health and overall immune strength. Studies have shown a 25%-50% decrease in sick time in people that engage in moderate-intense exercise regularly for 30-45 minutes. Exercise has been shown to decrease stress and increase specific immune cells in the body that are responsible for destroying viruses and bacteria. Some say the rise in body temperature while exercising also helps to stop the growth of harmful bacteria. However, keep in mind that there is such a thing as too much exercise and going overboard can actually have the opposite health effect, weakening your immune system. If you’re feeling a cold coming on, engage in some more gentle forms of movement such as brisk walking or yoga. If you have a more serious respiratory infection, wait at least two weeks before engaging in physical activity. At this point, rest is your best defense.
Your digestive tract is directly connected to your immune system. So keeping your gut healthy and happy is incredibly important. All of the above tips will help to improve digestive function, but for many of us that need the extra support after years of stress and poor diet and lifestyle habits, taking a high-quality probiotic to help replenish the good bacteria in your gut will help you stay healthy and fight off bad bacteria and infections that can lead to illness.
Dr. Robin Berzin is the founder and CEO of Parsley Health. A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Robin completed medical school at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.