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Winter is coming, and so do the annual sniffles and sneezes. Illnesses increase over the colder months as we head inside, but there are some things you can do to stay healthy this winter. If you have any concerns or are feeling very ill, talk to your doctor.
Get the Jab!
The flu impacts one in four New Zealanders each winter and can put you out of action for weeks. Luckily, influenza immunisations are available each year at the start of April. These provide protection from the strains most likely to occur that year. In the flu shot are inactive influenza viruses that cannot cause any symptoms but do teach your immune system how to recognise and kill the virus. This means if you do encounter the live virus, your immune system will identify and destroy it quickly. Plus, even if you come into contact with a flu strain not covered by the vaccine, it is likely that the symptoms will be reduced.
In New Zealand, the flu vaccine is free for over 65s, or under 65s with specific diseases or conditions. It’s important to get the vaccine even if you have a strong immune system and are all-around healthy as it prevents the spread of the disease to more vulnerable communities. You can get your immunisation from your GP, or selected pharmacies.
Quit the “Bad Guys”
Smoking and binge drinking is by no surprise bad for your health. However, they can also have a monumental impact on how your body reacts to disease and the strength of your immune system.
Smoking damages your lungs destroys antioxidants present in your blood and kills antibodies. All of which makes you more vulnerable to disease, especially in the lungs. Smoking has also been found to shorten your telomeres, which protect our DNA from degrading when it replicates. When telomeres get too short, replication can damage our chromosomes, and cause immune cell dysfunction. In this situation, your body is no longer equipped to handle any infections so you will get sicker, for longer.
Alcohol can have similar effects when had in excess. A glass of wine over dinner is perfectly fine, and sometimes even recommended! Binge drinking, on the other hand, is when you consume 5 or more drinks over a 2 hour period for men, or 4 drinks in the same time for women. Binge drinking can bring about more serious health issues, and repercussions for your immune system. It has been found to reduce white blood cells ability to combat infection, making you far more vulnerable to viral infections such as the flu. To reduce the risk of falling ill this winter, consider dropping these “bad guys”, your immune system will thank you for it.
Stress and Your Immune System
Everyone experiences stress from time to time, and in short spurts, stress can bolster your immune system. When your body identifies a stressor, the hormone cortisol is released. Positively, cortisol can reduce inflammation, thus improving your body’s ability to respond to disease. Over time, with continued and prolonged stress, your body will treat the high levels of cortisol as normal, and the benefits decrease. Cortisol, in high concentrations, reduces your number of lymphocytes which are white blood cells that fight infection. This can leave you vulnerable. To reduce stress, and strengthen your immune system, meditate, talk it out, try yoga or check out these tips.
Eat for Your Immune System
Load up on almonds, oranges and broccoli to enrich your diet with vitamins C and E. These vitamins have been found to bolster your immune system and help combat infection. Your body doesn’t store vitamin C, so you need to eat it daily. Luckily, as so many foods contain vitamin C, you likely do not need a supplement, unless recommended by your doctor. Eating a wide range of vegetables is of particular importance during winter, and doing so can improve your immune system function.
Stop it From Spreading
Colds, flus and other airborne illnesses pop up every winter as we head indoors. To minimise the chances of catching and spreading anything, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with warm water and soap. It is recommended you sing Happy Birthday twice while scrubbing all over your hands – not forgetting under your nails! This is particularly important if you have been in contact with someone who is sick. If you feel a sneeze or cough coming on, prevent the spread of droplets by covering your nose and mouth with your elbow.
Spend your winter without the runny noses this year! Follow these tips to stay happy and healthy.
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