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You have stocked up on First Defence, are packing more vitamin C than a Florida orange farm, but still manage to get sick and spend the winter snivelling and feeling tired. Here are 7 tips to help you stay healthy, happy and fit throughout the festive season and beyond. Keep in mind that we only have 13 days before it will start getting lighter – 2 minutes a day, or 15 minutes a week!
Tip 1: get some exercise. Reasonably intense exercise (and strength training in particular) releases endorphins, our feel-good hormones. The presence of these hormones increases the production of white blood cells which are our immune system’s first line of defence. It’s important that the exercise is intense enough to make you breathless and sweaty, as it’s only at this level and beyond that you will produce endorphins.
Tip 2: be happy. Not so easy in the present climate of Euro crises and credit disaster, but laughter and feelings of happiness have also been shown to increase the production of white blood cells. One study at Indiana State University found that women who laughed while watching a funny film increased the activity of natural killer white blood cells. Since laughter may enhance immune function, try to watch some funny TV, do as many fun things as possible or simply spend time with your funniest friends.
Tip 3: get some sleep. Deep sleep is when the body does most of its repair work. Your body goes through several REM cycles – deep, regenerative sleep – each night, but you make the most immune-strengthening repairs during the last and longest one, which begins after seven hours of slumber.
Tip 4: listen to your favourite songs. Several studies have shown that music raises IgA levels, especially during times of stress. IgA is a protein that helps build immunity. In one, scientists played jazz for half an hour in a newspaper office while 10 reporters were on deadline. During that time, IgA levels increased, and they continued to rise for at least 30 minutes after the music was turned off. But you can listen to any genre, be it bluegrass or hip-hop; as long as you like it, your health will benefit.
Tip 5: be with friends. Rewarding relationships allow you to experience positive emotions, which lower levels of immune-suppressing hormones like norepinephrine. So get out there.
Tip 6: eat well. Even minor vitamin and mineral shortages can challenge your body’s defenses. Choose a wide variety of whole foods, including brown rice, low-fat protein sources like fish and beans, and five to nine daily servings of fruits and veggies. And make sure you’re eating enough. Even with a diverse diet, a too-low calorie intake deprives your body of the energy it needs to take care of daily functions, like staving off colds.
Tip 7: wash your hands. Wash your hands often with hot water and soap. Get a good lather going, as it’s the soap that dislodges the germs, not the water. Hand sanitisers and films are also effective.
Good luck, be healthy and wrap up warm.