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The leaves are changing, and there's a crispness in the air—fall is upon us, and so is flu season. Preparing for flu season doesn't require a magic potion, just a few simple habits can make a world of difference. Here are six immunity-boosting habits to help you stay healthy and vibrant this fall and winter:
1. Embrace Vitamin D
Vitamin D is your immune system’s best friend — it’s vital for the activation of our immune systems. Without healthy levels of this nutrient, our bodies can’t fight off infections. Vitamin D promotes your immune system by supporting a healthy respiratory system, keeping you away from the common cold, bronchitis, flu, and more.
Vitamin D is mainly produced via sun exposure (that’s why you may also know it as the “sunshine vitamin”). Depending on the melanin levels in your skin, you should aim to get at least 10-30 minutes of sunlight multiple times a week. (If you have darker skin, you may need more sun exposure to produce proper vitamin D levels.)
Naturally, our access to sunlight diminishes during fall and winter. Shorter days and colder weather cause decreased sun exposure — and as a result, decreased vitamin D levels. So, soak up some natural sunlight or consider taking a vitamin D supplement, especially during the darker months. Check with your healthcare provider for the right dosage.
2. Get the Flu Shot
Don't forget the flu shot! It's your armor against the most common flu strains of the season. While it doesn't guarantee absolute immunity, it significantly reduces the severity of the flu if you do catch it. Flu shots protect against disease by introducing a vaccine into the body that triggers an immune response. That allows the body to attack viruses rather than be infected.
You’ll protect yourself from getting sick and give your immune system an extra bump. Flu vaccines are widely available at health care clinics and pharmacies. Consult with your healthcare provider to schedule your shot and ensure you're protected.
3. Get Some Rest and De-Stress
When you’re short on sleep, your immune system is hard-pressed to fight against colds, flu and other illnesses. Skipping on sleep can weaken immunity and cause unfavorable changes to infection-fighting white blood cells. So, when your body tells you it’s tired, it’s a good idea to listen to it so you can stay healthy. Experts believe the sweet spot for optimal rest for most adults is between seven and nine hours per night.
Chronic stress can also weaken your body's ability to fend off illnesses and infections. So, put self-care at the top of your to-do list. Prioritize sleep, practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation, and take time for activities that bring you joy. Check out our better sleep guide for more tips on how to achieve deep rest and relaxation.
4. Stay Active
The urge to hibernate on the couch can get stronger as the temperatures get colder — but moving your body regularly can make a big difference in immune health. Consistent, moderate exercise has been found to enhance the immune system, thanks to positive effects like reducing inflammation, helping to replenish immune cells, and enhancing immune surveillance.
With the leaves changing and beautiful weather, fall is the perfect time to add more daily walks and outdoor time to your routine. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.
5. Eat Seasonal Foods
Stock up on nutrient-dense, seasonal fruits and veggies this fall! Fall brings an abundance of immune-boosting seasonal foods like pumpkins, squash, beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, cranberries, and leafy greens like spinach or kale. They are rich in the vitamins, antioxidants, and nutrients our bodies need to power immune function, calm oxidative stress, and balance inflammation.
6. Strengthen Your Gut Health
Did you know that nearly 70% of your immune system is housed in your gut? It’s no secret that our gut flora (aka microbiome) helps keep our immune system functioning at its best, along with influencing nutrient absorption, resistance to infection, and supporting a healthy inflammatory response.
Gut flora is a pretty big deal. To strengthen your gut health, incorporate probiotics into your diet. Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi are fantastic sources of these beneficial bacteria.
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