Winter is on its way and what with COVID and flu to contend with as well as the usual coughs and colds, it’s time to make sure your immune system is tip top. There are no supplements or other witchcraft that will stop you getting or cure COVID and flu but evidence shows that you recover more easily and quickly if you are fit and healthy and have a strong immune system.
As you know, menopause can leave you not feeling your best or lacking motivation to keep up the self-care at times but it’s important to make a special effort at this time of year. So here are some ways you can boost your immune system this winter without it feeling like too much of an effort.
There are some vitamins and minerals that can really help here such as vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc. Starting your day with a glass of pure unsweetened orange juice (not from concentrate) is a great easy way to get a hit of vitamin C and will give you the recommended daily amount. If a drink doesn’t do it for you, any citrus fruit such as orange and grapefruit is good as is kiwi fruit.
Adding fruit to some natural yoghurt is also a great way to add in some prebiotics which are good for stimulating your gut microbiome. Make sure it’s natural, greek or “live” yoghurt as they tend to have these properties rather than ones with added sugars and flavourings. If you need added sweetness, a drizzle of honey or agave will do the job. While you’re at it, you could also try a sprinkling of nuts and seeds on top. These are packed with vitamins and an easy way to get them into you. Pumpkin seeds and almonds are particularly good.
If you’re more of a savoury gal, spinach and red peppers are also high in vitamin C. Whilst it’s not salad season, these are both great ingredients in homemade soup. Broccoli is also a brilliant all rounder. Speaking of soup; making a batch at the start of the week for your lunches is an ideal way to get a load of this type of goodness in your diet. Regular additions to my soups also include garlic, ginger and turmeric. All of these are known to have anti-inflammatory properties and make any soup even more tasty.
Any kind of movement is good for boosting your immune system and also helps to reduce stress and increase relaxation. We’re not talking hours every week in the gym. Just find what works for you. Here are some ideas for increasing your movement that don’t feel like forced exercise:
- Getting out for a walk also has the benefit of absorbing some vitamin D (more on that below). If you’re not one for going for walks, use this for things you might normally use the car for such as going to the post box or the local shop. You can also try things like getting off the bus or train a stop earlier or parking further away in the car park
- Hula hooping
- Housework – keeping up your pace and putting extra effort into movements is ideal. Blast some tunes to help with motivation!
- Use the stairs instead of the lift
Vitamin D ☀️
Whilst we know exposing ourselves to sunlight is generally bad for us, it is recommended to be outside for at least 10 minutes each day to expose skin to sunlight. You should do this without sunscreen or it blocks the absorption. Obviously, don’t stand in blistering sun for more than a few minutes and remember it is still important to wear sunscreen even in winter as the sun is still there and sending out harmful rays!
If it’s the depths of winter and sunshine is a distant memory, or if you aren’t able to get outside, consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Doctors were actively recommending this during the height of the COVID pandemic as people spent so much more time indoors.
A dose of 10 micrograms (mcg) is sufficient for most women. A microgram is 1,000 times smaller than a milligram (mg). The word microgram is sometimes written with the Greek symbol μ followed by the letter g (μg). Sometimes the amount of vitamin D is expressed as International Units (IU). 1 microgram of vitamin D is equal to 40 IU. So 10 micrograms of vitamin D is equal to 400 IU. You can buy these inexpensively from many shops and pharmacies.
Sleep is hugely important for keeping you well. The gold standard seems to be 7 – 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. However, in my many years of nursing, I’ve come to recognise that whilst this is fine for some people, for others, it’s nigh on impossible. It’s important not to get hung up on numbers as this can cause you more stress which then impacts your sleep even more! If you function perfectly well on 5 hours a night and have done for a long time, this is fine. Whatever your normal is is good. The key is the quality of the sleep. For many of us, this is the kicker, given that night sweats, joint pain and/or restless legs often have other ideas. Whilst your body might try and fight you, you can at least take control of your environment. Make sure the room is cool and dark, avoid screens before bed and have a wind down routine to help get into a relaxing state or mind before sleep. You can also help reduce night sweats by avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine in the couple of hours before bed.
Protect yourself 💪🏼
There are also some practical measures you can take such as:
- avoiding other ill people
- washing your hands regularly
- cleaning high touch surfaces regularly such as door handles, phones, laptops etc
- staying socially distant where possible
- wearing a mask in crowded places
- consider getting a flu and COVID vaccine if you haven’t already
Manage stress 🤯
If you’re stressed this can make you feel run down and you’re more prone to low level illness such as coughs and colds. It also stimulates cortisol production which can suppress your immune system. If you don’t normally deal with stress well, consider how you can improve this.
- Use meditation, mindfulness or relaxation techniques. Start with the Insight Timer app if you’re new to this
- Ask for help if you’re struggling. If the situation was reversed, you would encourage your friends and family to reach out so practice what you preach!
- Take up a hobby or make more time for your hobbies
- Do things for other people
- Make time for self-care – this includes getting sleep, moving regularly and eating things that make you feel good
- Focus on the positives in situations. There are likely to be some if you look for them instead of letting your mind go straight to the negatives which is what we are often naturally inclined to do when feeling stressed
Best of luck navigating winter and I’ll see you on the other side! If you need help with improving your wellbeing, please get in touch for a chat. I’m happy to help or signpost you to other resources.