Here in New England, the leaves are starting to change color and we’ve already had some nights with frost (bye bye tomato plants!). Brrr! While I’m always hesitant to say goodbye to summer, there is something so satisfying about putting on a big fleece blanket, curling up with a cup of tea and having the scent of apple and pumpkin fill the house.
Unfortunately, along with the cooler weather, fall often brings with it more opportunities for getting sick! This is because we’re spending more time indoors in artificial air, the kids are back to school sharing germs with each other and the air is drier, which leaves our nasal membrane less able to fend off viral visitors!
But the change of seasons doesn’t mean that you have to just sit back and wait for the cough, chills and stuffy nose to hit you! There are things you can do to reduce your chances of getting sick and if you do get sick, reduce the severity of it!
I’m an asthmatic so when I get a cold it can easily turn into a huge respiratory infection that lasts weeks and requires antibiotics. By making a few healthy goals a priority, I’ve managed to stay out of the doctors office the last several winters, which to be honest is amazing! I’m sharing my favorite ways to stay healthy in cold season so that you can spend less time coughing and more time living.
Andrea’s Simple Ways to Stay Healthy This Fall
1. Take a vitamin D supplement if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. Between October and March in this part of the world, we just don’t get enough sunlight to make vitamin D in the amount we require (and getting it through food sources alone is difficult), leading to many people having deficiencies. Studies show that people who are vitamin D deficient have a higher risk of viral infections, including the flu. A simple blood test from your doctor can tell you if you should supplement and your doctor can tell you how much you need. When choosing a vitamin D supplement, look for D3 (instead of D2) as it is usually more effective. Vitamin D can also help keep seasonal depression at bay – a common complaint as we move into the darker months.
2. Drink homemade bone broth regularly. 70% of our immune system lives in our gut. Unfortunately, due to the overuse of antibiotics and our poor diets, most of us don’t have healthy digestive systems. It’s more normal than abnormal today to have more bad gut flora than good, leading to problems like candida, acne, eczema and IBS. Even more serious is when someone develops leaky gut syndrome, a condition where food, toxins and microbes pass through the weakened gut wall, leading to a whole host of conditions but also increasing the chance for coming down with the common cold or flu (because your gut is compromised, it can’t defend invaders properly). We all know that chicken soup and broth makes you feel good when you are sick (mostly due to reducing inflammation) but did you know that drinking homemade broth from chicken bones (or other animal bones) can actually help rebuild and repair the gut wall? It’s full of important minerals, amino acids and gelatin that heal and soothe. If your gut is healthy, you will be healthy!
There’s nothing like homemade broth, even when you’re not sick! Here’s one of my recipes for homemade chicken bone broth. It freezes well (put it in individual sized portions for quick defrosting) so you can make it last until you get some more bones in your hands.
3. Cut back on sugar. Researchers aren’t sure exactly why yet, but sugar has been shown to reduce the response of our white blood cells when confronted with bacteria. If you have a lot of sugar in your diet and you spend time around others who are sick, your immune system won’t be as equipped to fight off infection. We already have a big list of reasons to avoid sugar (insulin resistance, weight gain, chronic inflammation etc.) and this is one more.
If sugar is a tough one for you, cut back slowly and opt for fruit to satisfy a sweet craving. Try using medjool dates or dried figs to sweeten foods naturally. It’s still sugar of course but you can use them as a stepping stone in reducing your dependence on the refined stuff.
4. Make sleep a priority. Not getting enough sleep increases cortisol production (the fight or flight hormone) in the body. When levels of it are increased too often (by chronic stress!), our immune system becomes less sensitive to it’s effects and has a difficult time regulating the inflammatory response, making us more susceptible to sickness. Yuck. Just what we need on top of being tired! Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night to help your body keep this stress hormone in check.
5. Get a little exercise! Moderate exercise gives immune systems a boost! Studies show that women who exercise 30 – 45 minutes several days a week get less colds than women who don’t exercise. And it will help make #4 an easier goal to attain! A good workout always helps me sleep better!
6. Keep your vegetable consumption high. I know I sound like a broken record with how I talk about eating your veggies but they really are the cornerstone of good health! For most of us, getting a good amount of vegetables in our diet in the summer months is easy – produce is abundant and we want crisp, fresh foods! In the fall and winter, as natural availability dwindles, our cravings turn to more dense comfort foods and the quantity of produce we eat tends to fall. If you want to keep sickness away, it’s important to keep eating lots of vegetables! Why? They’re chock full of vitamins C, A, E, flavonoids, magnesium and so many other nutrients that help keep your immune system running smoothly. No supplement can match real food and you just can’t get the same vitamin and mineral load from other foods that you get from vegetables and fruit. Eat up!
Roasted winter vegetables like parsnips, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots, celery root, brussels sprouts and cauliflower can satisfy the craving for heartier foods while still being vegetables with lots of amazing nutrition. Try adding greens like kale, swiss chard and collards to soups (use your homemade bone broth as a base!) even if you don’t like them – they’ll blend in easily! And don’t be shy about using frozen vegetables – they’re often cheaper and just as nutritious, and of course they cook up quickly!
I hope you consider incorporating some of these into your lifestyle this fall and winter! You will feel a difference if you are consistent!
Do you have any tricks or tips that have helped you stay healthy in cold and flu season? I’d love to hear yours!
This post originally was posted as an email. If you’d like to be on this list, sign up in the green box below!