You’ve confidently avoided the nasty flu that forced half your coworkers to call in sick last month, but your receptionist’s hacking cough and sniffling signal doom that you’ll soon succumb to whatever virus she has.
Take control now and you’ll minimize your risk. You can’t completely become virus-proof, but with these 5 strategies you’ll be far less likely to crash and burn during the menacing cold and flu season.
- Get more sleep. Just 1 terrible night’s sleep can raise your stress hormones and lower immune function. You’re more susceptible to whatever is going around your office. Poor sleep also increases your appetite, making you crave sugar, which further weakens your immunity. You need 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep each night to boost your immune system. Power down an hour before bed, take a hot bath with chamomile tea and a trashy novel, and take a sleep aid if you really have trouble getting solid shut-eye.
- Stress less. Ever notice how an argument with your significant other or a brutal week at work can bring on a cold or flu? It’s not your imagination: a meta-analysis of 300 studies found chronic stress can seriously mangle your immune system. Stress does its damage by lowering natural killer (NK) cell activity (a major player in a healthy immune system), raising fat-storing cortisol, and depleting vitamin C. If you can’t eliminate stress, then reduce its impact with a massage, yoga, meditation, or whatever else can create added bliss.
- Move more. One study found moderate exercise can increase your body’s macrophage production, which helps strengthen your immune system. Contrary to what you might hear, running, aerobics classes, and treadmill marathons all raise cortisol, which can break down muscle and weaken the immune system. (You probably know a compulsive runner or spin-class fiend who’s always sick.) Ditch those wasted hours with my 4 x 4 Workouts, which combine burst training and resistance training that can boost your immune system and spark fast fat loss.
- Start your day with the right fuel. Starting your day with the right nutrients and keeping balanced blood sugar levels are your best dietary defenses against nasty colds, flus, and whatever other viruses are going around. Make breakfast The Virgin Diet Shake, available in delicious chocolate, vanilla, or my favorite, chai. The plant-based protein blend and added nutrients give your body the tools to optimize immunity and ward off colds. Vitamin C-rich berries and kale, flax or chia seeds, and coconut milk provide additional immune oomph and keep you satiated for hours.
- Bump up your D. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen found vitamin D can activate your immune defenses. I know numerous nutrition experts who immediately reach for the D when they feel that first sign of a cold coming on. (Yes, even us nutritionists occasionally get sick!) Without sufficient vitamin D, your immune system has a difficult time fighting infections. You’re probably not making enough D from sunlight during winter months, and few foods contain optimal levels, so supplementing with a high-quality vitamin D proves your best bet.
© 2012 JJ Virgin & Associates, Inc. Celebrity Nutrition & Fitness Expert JJ Virgin helps clients lose weight fast by breaking free from food allergies. She is the bestselling author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy, a Huffington Post blogger, creator of the 4X4 Burst Training Workout & co-star of TLC’s Freaky Eaters. Her latest book, New York Times Bestseller The Virgin Diet: Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days, is out now. Learn more at www.thevirgindiet.com.