How to Boost Your Immunity
The start of a New Year is often eagerly approached with resolutions to improve health and fitness, and yet, in the Northern Hemisphere, the months of January, February and March are harsh.
Covid-19 has added further to this challenge.
Improving your immune health during the winter months, so you can focus on training and fitness, may feel like a tough task, but it can be done using these three key tips below.
Follow a healthy and balanced diet
Dr Glen Davison, a nutrition and exercise immunology expert and Head of the University of Kent’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences (kent.ac.uk) explains: “We know that nutritional deficiencies have negative effects on immune function, so we should always aim to have a healthy and balanced diet to avoid such deficiencies."
“Try to avoid extreme and fad diets (which are usually quite popular at this time of year), and instead focus on balance. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables daily – try to eat a variety of different ones, of various colours. This may help ensure adequate intake of essential nutrients with little risk of excess intake of any single nutrient.”
Try to avoid extreme and fad diets (which are usually quite popular at this time of year), and instead focus on balance.
This next point is tough – especially as we find ourselves in Lockdown 3. “You should also avoid drinking too much alcohol,” adds Dr Davison.
Alcohol can have negative effects on immunity and resistance to infections. Even though you may be experiencing more stress and isolation than normal, setting yourself an alternative challenge may help. Replace reaching for a drink by starting a more healthy habit in the evenings, from 10 minutes of yoga on YouTube, to a simple online bodyweight strength circuit you can do in your living room. Get your muscles warmed up, fired up and benefit from the immediate, but much healthier, release of endorphins.
If this feels unrealistic, consider reducing the number of nights a week you drink or look for some non-alcoholic wines or beers. Gen!us is the UK's first ever LIGHT craft lager (3% ABV) that maintains craft quality and ethos is also low calorie (at 79 calories it’s less than an apple). There is also Brewdog Nanny State.
Stay active with any type of physical activity
“Evidence suggests that regular moderate activity is beneficial for immune enhancement and reducing the risk of infection,” says Dr Davison. “Being physically active has many benefits including enhanced anti-inflammatory status, and a reduction in many lifestyle-related risk factors for chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
“Evidence suggests that regular moderate activity is beneficial for immune enhancement and reducing the risk of infection".
Research has shown that some negative health effects can begin to emerge after even a few days of inactivity. “So, if you are stuck indoors it’s really important to keep active. We also know that regular physical activity is associated with enhanced immune health and reduced illness risk. Exercise can also have beneficial effects on general wellbeing, mood and psychological state. It can reduce stress, improve sleep and more. All of these factors have beneficial effects on immunity.”
Dr Davison stresses that all types of physical activity are beneficial, from walking to running and cycling, from gardening to clearing out the garage.
Be cautious of supplements but do reach for the vitamin C
Take some extra time at the beginning of each week, when you are planning your training, to plan your meals so you are eating home-cooked rather than processed foods. Don’t fall into the trap of believing an expensive multi-nutrient supplement will solve all your health issues. “Multi-nutrients may be beneficial for those with a pre-existing deficiency,” says Dr Davison, “but they’re not needed if normal dietary intake is sufficient. Supplementation with individual nutrients is generally not recommended.
“Some supplements including probiotics, and some plant-derived products (Echinacea, black elderberry, and some polyphenols) may be beneficial but only in specific situations/contexts. Consider your personal needs, use caution, and avoid the indiscriminate use of supplements,” he advises.
For any runner who will be receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, topping up with your vitamin C at the same time may drastically improve its effectiveness.
“Vaccines tend to be least effective in those who need them most, such as older people with weaker immune systems,” says Patrick Holford, founder of the Food for the Brain Foundation and the Institute for Optimum Nutrition. “It’s precisely these people who tend to have lower vitamin C levels and vitamin C, being an unparalleled all-round immune support nutrient, could reasonably be assumed to enhance vaccine response and even, potentially, reduce risk of adverse effects.
“Both vitamin C and vaccination share the goal of enhancing the immune system’s response against a virus. So, vitamin C should be a useful ally for any viral vaccination,” he says.
And remember, your mind and your body are connected. To ensure your immune system, and physical body is in good shape, don’t forget to look after mental health, to optimise both health and wellbeing in 2021. Download a meditation or mindfulness app today, so you are investing as much in your mental muscle as your physical ones. Achieving a more balanced, calm and relaxed mental and emotional state, allows your body to feel more relaxed, boosting immune function.
Tina Chantrey is the fitness editor of Women’s Running magazine, a UKA running coach and author of /The Little Book of Zen/. Find her at @shewhodaresruns