Lemon water: A really simple but great start to the day, drinking a pint of warm lemon water first thing in the morning not only helps with hydration, but is also thought to have a positive effect on digestion, preparing the body to receive food by stimulating digestive secretions. In addition, it’s also a simple way to increase your vitamin C intake, a key nutrient for supporting the immune system. Lemon water also has a long-standing tradition in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, as it’s believed to aid with cleansing and detoxification.
Live bacteria supplements: Most people are aware of the beneficial effects of live bacteria supplements for digestion. However, many don’t realise they are also a great way to support the immune system – over 70% of which resides in the lining of the gut and is supported by a diverse community of bacteria. Beneficial species of gut bacteria have been shown to influence both the innate and acquired immune systems. Taken over the winter months, they have been shown to significantly shorten common colds and reduce the severity of symptoms. There are different schools of thought as to when is best to take live bacteria supplements, however some evidence suggests taking them just before a meal (especially one that contains healthy fats) may enhance the survival of the bacteria. Most people also find it easiest to remember to take supplements with their breakfast, so it becomes a healthy habit to start the day.
Make Lunch Colourful: With meal deals and packed lunches often consisting of sandwiches and crisps, many people’s lunches are distinctly beige and lacking in nutrients. Did you know the different colour pigments in fruit and vegetables actually indicate the different health properties they possess? For example, orange fruit and vegetables are high in beta-carotene (the pre-cursor to vitamin A), whilst purple varieties contain proanthocyanidins, which are powerful antioxidants. As the immune system needs a variety of different nutrients to stay healthy, eating a rainbow of different colours every day is important. So ditch the soggy sandwiches and instead pack a fresh rainbow salad, topped with good quality protein.
Take a walk: It’s easy to slip into the bad habit of eating lunch at your desk. However, not only is this bad for digestion, it also means you could be missing out on vital opportunities to support your immune system. Getting outside and taking a walk each lunch break offers a number of health benefits, such as lowering cortisol levels, increasing vitamin D levels (another crucial nutrient for the immune system) and, if you have access to a green space close by, exposing your immune system to a wider variety of beneficial micro-organisms from the environment to help keep it strong and healthy.
Protein-rich snacks: Many people get an after-lunch lull, which means by 3pm they’re reaching for the sugary cakes and biscuits. Instead, make sure you always have protein-rich snacks on hand. Not only does protein help stabilise blood sugar levels, reducing energy crashes, but it also provides the building blocks for many of the body’s immune cells, and diets too low in protein have been shown to have a negative impact on immunity. Unsalted nuts, seeds, boiled eggs, oatcakes topped with smoked salmon or mackerel, veg sticks with hummus and chia pudding are all good protein-rich snack options.
Exercise: Fitting exercise around work, family and social life can be hard. Some people find they are more likely to make it to the gym or an exercise class if they go straight from work (so they don’t get side-tracked by things at home). While it’s best to rest up if you fall ill, regular moderate exercise has been shown to have immune-enhancing effects and a positive impact on the gut microbiome in some individuals.
Eat Early: Avoiding eating too late at night is thought to have a number of benefits in terms of digestion and quality of sleep. Emerging research is also indicating that a prolonged over-night fast of 12-16 hours, (known as time-restricted feeding, or TRF), may also have a number of wider health benefits. For example, TRF has been shown to stimulate autophagy, the process by which the body breaks down old cells (including old immune cells), so the components can be recycled into new ones. In this way, fasting is thought to ‘cleanse’ cells of damaged molecules and organelles. If you tend to work late or have a long commute, why not batch-cook some evening meals that can quickly be reheated and eaten when you get home.
Go to bed early: Sleep and the immune system are closely linked. Studies have shown that participants who had a good night sleep after receiving vaccinations created more protective anti-bodies than those who were sleep deprived, indicating the specific role of sleep in the formation of immunological memory. Prolonged periods of not getting enough sleep are therefore likely to have a negative effect on immune function. Sticking to a regular bedtime and avoiding blue light from electronic devices for at least an hour before bed, helps to regulate circadian rhythms and production of melatonin (the sleep hormone). Soaking in a magnesium salt bath and reading a book may also help you to drop off.
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