I’m reallllly excited about today’s guest post, especially because I could have really used this advice a few weeks ago when I was sick! Dr. Alexandra Sowa is a board-certified internist, specializing in nutrition, weight loss and prevention in New York City. She reached out, offering to give us some tips + tricks for staying healthy this winter, and I absolutely love her advice… though I’m a little nervous about #5. 😉 Follow her on Instagram for more healthy tips and advice!
There is nothing worse than being sidelined by winter sickness. I’ve loved following Grace’s Winter Wellness Challenge, and as a doctor and a mom of two little kids, I know that nothing derails healthy lifestyle changes like illness. Given that the cold and flu season is hitting us especially hard this year, I wanted to offer my top immune boosters and disease repellents to keep everyone as healthy as possible!
In addition to getting the flu shot (the ultimate ‘immune booster’) to ward off or minimize the flu, here are some natural ways to keep illnesses at bay:
- Get moving – While this may be the last thing you want to do in the dead of winter, getting off of your cozy couch (I know, sometimes it’s so painful!) and exercising every day for 30-60 minutes is one of the most effective ways to boost immune function. But remember, if you opt to workout at the gym, make sure to wipe down the machines, which can be germ magnets.
- Pop a probiotic (or better yet, eat a probiotic food) – While scientific understanding is still evolving on this one, studies have shown that daily probiotics improve the body’s immune response. This is likely due to “good” bacteria fighting off the kind of bacteria that makes you sick. While a pill might be the easiest solution for some, foods like live-culture yogurt, tempeh, and kombucha offer the best probiotic punch.
- Lay off the booze – Over-indulging in alcohol will not only leave you with a hangover, but will compromise your immune system. Alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to produce disease-fighting cytokines, leaving you more vulnerable to infection up to 24 hours after drinking. Alcohol also interferes with your sleep cycles, which brings me to #4…
- Get your beauty rest – Research has shown that getting less than seven hours of sleep a night triples your risk of catching a cold. The best, most restorative sleep comes when maintain a fairly consistent routine (no, sleeping in on the weekends doesn’t make up for getting 4 hours of sleep Monday-Thursday), so try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day.
- Eat two cloves of garlic per day – I don’t mean to destroy anyone’s love life with this recommendation, but garlic is a natural antiseptic. It contains a compound called allicin, which blocks enzymes that activate infections. To get the maximum health benefits, crush garlic at room temperature and allow it to sit out for 15 minutes before cooking or eating.
- Gargle with salt water – Nope, this one isn’t just an old-wives tale! While gargling regularly with plain old water is sufficient to help ward off a cold, it’s best to use a salt water solution (about 1 teaspoon of salt to a cup of warm water) if you feel a sore throat coming on. The salt solution will help ease inflammation and flush out any brewing germs. (It may also help get rid of garlic breath!)
- Invest in a Neti Pot. – A neti pot is a ceramic or plastic tea kettle-shaped container that can be used for nasal irrigation (think of it as a salt water gargle for your nose). Just like gargling does for your throat, a daily saline rinse can help sweep out bacteria and viruses from your nasal passages. Just remember to clean your neti pot out regularly, and only use boiled or bottled water.
- Meditate (or find something that reduces your stress) – Stress, both chronic and acute, depresses your immune system and puts you at risk for getting sick. Studies have shown that meditating as little as 12 minutes a day reduces stress levels, improves cognitive functioning and actually increases DNA that fights cellular aging.
- Enjoy some ginger tea – The exact science is a little weak on this ancient remedy, but fresh ginger contains anti-viral compounds that have shown to be protective against rhinoviruses (aka the common cold). So, drink up! (note from Grace: This tea is my FAVORITE!!)
- Wash your hands – While this one seems fairly obvious, 95% of people aren’t washing their hands properly (I know, gross). While it won’t boost your immune system, washing your hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds is the most effective way to keep illness at bay.