Do you want to get FIT or FAT this winter? Part 4: How to ward off winter bugs!

Dr Leonaura Rhodes discusses how exercise and other lifestyle factors affect immune system health and help us prevent and fight off bugs and even prevent cancer.

They are out there! Those nasty bugs waiting to get you! But how is it that some people hardly ever get ill? It’s probably that their immune system is really healthy!

How to boost your immune system this winter! 

Your immune system is constantly fighting to defend your body against micro-organisms (the medical term for those nasty bugs!) The immune system is interconnected with your nervous system and your hormonal system and to function balance is required. Immune system health is also implicated in preventing and fighting cancers. Research is beginning to show that immune system health is effected by diet, exercise, stress and other lifestyle factors:

  • Don’t smoke: smoking has a negative effect on all aspects of immune health.
  • Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit sugar (especially high fructose corn syrup), which decreases immune function rapidly. Consider eating more garlic which is antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal. 
  • Maintain a health weight but avoid rapid weight loss though, as this can reduce immune function. 
  • Exercise regularly: see below
  • Manage your stress: stress has a significant effect on immune system health. (look out for more ideas on stress management in my blogs and facebook)
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all.
  • Be well rested and sleep well.
  • Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
  • Hydrate yourself! Adequate water intake will help immune function and help your body “flush out” bugs. 
  • Take supplements if your diet is not adequate but buy only good quality supplements like a whole food supplement, zinc and anti-oxidants. Probiotics are essential for good digestive immune health: I recommend that everyone take a good quality pro-biotic. Aloe vera is excellent to help skin immunity and repair after a burn or injury. 
  • Get out in the sun! When we are exposed to sunlight our body makes vitamin D, which is good for our immune system and nervous system. Many of us, especially those who live through long cold winters are not getting enough vitamin D. You can take a supplement but it’s better to get it naturally through sun exposure (40% of body exposed, for 20 mins, between 10am and 2pm). Optimal vitamin D levels are also linked to decreased risks of several cancers (including lung and skin).
  • As you age your immune function may decline and you may be more exposed to respiratory infections. So you may need to work harder at keeping a healthy immune system, especially with regard to good nutrition and exercise. 
  • Myth: wrapping up warm does not improve immune health! As long as you are comfortable and not at risk of frostbite or hypothermia, you should be fine!

Exercise and the immune system

Regular mild to moderate exercise is good for your immune system. It increases circulation throughout your body and improves the circulation of components of your immune system (antibodies and white blood cells), to the areas that need it. Exercise also helps flush bugs from the body via the lungs, urine and sweat and the raise in body temperature may help fight infection. Last but not least exercise reduces stress and stress hormones, which improves immune function!

However, extreme exertion research shows that extreme exercising may be bad for immune health. Extreme exercise can decrease white blood cells and increase stress hormones. Sorry all of you triathlon, marathon, iron-man athletes but this type of training is bad for your immune system. 

Getting those winter bugs may prevent you exercising, and so forms a vicious circle: winter bug - feel unwell - don’t exercise - reduce immune function - get more winter bugs and so on! SO it’s essential to see exercise as a preventative measure. Exercising while you have an infection should be done with caution: reduce the intensity and listen to your body.  If you have shortness of breath, cough, fever, extreme tiredness, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes exercise should be avoided until you feel better or your doctor recommends a return to exercise. 

For more information on health coaching, healthy lilfestyle and stress visit:


Exercise motivation and support:

In this “holiday”/ “festive” season with the cold weather, shorter days and availability of lots of “good food” it can be really tough to keep fit. This is why I have set up a new Facebook Community to help to people like me get fit and stay fit.

The new community is called Positive Steps to Health (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Positive-Steps-To-Health/345174432246963?ref=hl)

The idea of the Community is to share ideas, motivation and support with other like-minded people.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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