As the night’s draw in and the temperatures drop, your health and wellbeing can really take a hit. Keeping your sleep, exercise and diet in check during these chilly months, while continuing to practise social distancing and good hygiene, are your best defence against the winter blues and bugs.
3 ways to strengthen your immunity
We all know sleep affects our mental and physical wellbeing, but did you know a lack of sleep may increase your chances of getting infected by the common cold? In one experiment, researchers found that those who slept less than five hours were four-and-a-half times more likely to catch a cold than those sleeping more than seven hours a night. Another study found that if you are sleep deprived at the time of your flu jab, the vaccination can be less effective.
Sleep expert, Matt Walker, describes sleep as the best health insurance policy you could wish for in How Sleep Can Improve Your Immunity. Matt says: “During sleep at night, including deep non-REM sleep, we restock the weaponry within our immune arsenal. We stimulate the production of numerous different immune factors. And furthermore, the body actually increases its sensitivity to those immune factors. So you wake up the next day as a more robust immune individual.”
How can you improve the quality or quantity of your sleep? There are lots of things you can do to sleep better and feel better, such as adopting a routine, meditating, and eating the right food before bed. Creating a cosy winter bedroom is another way to help you sleep better and beat those winter blues.
Staying active in winter can be challenging as the days get colder and shorter, but it’s especially important for seasonal wellbeing. A 2019 scientific review in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found that exercise can improve your immune response, lower illness risk, and reduce inflammation, thereby playing an active role in helping us stay well in winter.
Exercise can also help ward off depression and boost the immune system. Many of the physical changes caused by depression, such as poor sleep or insomnia, can weaken your immune system, and make it harder for your body to fight infection.
Many people find running good for boosting mood but "any type of exercise is useful, as long as it suits you and you do enough of it," says Dr Alan Cohen, on NHS Exercise for Depression. While it’s best to avoid vigorous exercise at least an hour before bed, a gentle yoga class can be a great way to quiet your mind and calm your body for a great night’s sleep.
While there is no diet, or individual nutrient, food or supplement, that will protect against infectious diseases, such as flu or Coronavirus, a well-balanced diet can help ensure the normal functioning of the immune system.
In Bupa ‘Looking After Your Immune System’, Sarah Tipping, Bupa Health Adviser, explains why a healthy diet is so important for your immune system.
“Lots of nutrients are involved in building and maintaining your immune system. You can’t get them all from a single food – you need a varied diet to stay healthy. Vitamins and minerals help in various ways such as helping the ‘defender’ cells of your immune system to fight infection. Fruit and vegetables are also vital for your immune system. So, getting your five-a-day is a great place to start, along with keeping hydrated with plenty of fluids.”
You can find out which vitamins and minerals are needed for a healthy immune system here.
Your diet also plays a role in helping you sleep. In our feature ‘Eat your way to a good night’s sleep‘,
nutritionist, Libby Limon, says: “Sleep is regulated by the circadian-driven hormones, melatonin and cortisol, which are stimulated by the sun and moon cycles of light and darkness. Both of these can be supported via nutrition and our dietary habits to create balanced production and therefore a good quality and quantity of sleep. Libby shares her tips on food choices for a better night’s sleep on the Simple Life Hacks section of the Tielle blog.