It’s the thick of the holiday season & the first day of winter. There’s so much hustle & bustle, social gatherings and work projects to wrap up before the end of the year. The last thing you need right now is to get sick. So I’ve put together some ways for how you can keep yourself healthy during the holidays. Much of this likely isn’t a surprise to you, it can serve as a helpful reminder. You can also use these tips during the winter to prevent getting sick too!
1 - Stay Nourished
It can be super easy to fill up on cookies, cakes & holiday beverages with all of the holiday parties this month. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with partaking in the goodies. But remember that your body still needs its basic nutrition needs met. It’s important to get enough calories and nutrients to keep your body running smoothly. This is key considering how busy many of us are this time of year.
We need to be getting a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains & lean proteins for nourishment. One simple recommendation I often tell clients is to aim for at least 3 servings of veggies and 2 servings of fruit per day. The antioxidants in these items support your immune system.
2 - Eat for Your Immune System
Research tells us that getting enough calories and protein is important for immune defenses. There are specific vitamins & minerals that are essential to supporting our immunity. These micronutrients are listed below.
My recommendation is to try to eat some of the foods listed below on a regular basis. Please note that this is by no means an exhaustive list of foods with these nutrients. I’ve simply identified some of the foods and food groups that have the highest content of each vitamin or mineral.
Copper: shellfish, whole grains, beans, nuts, potatoes, dark leafy greens (such as spinach, kale, collards), dried fruits like prunes
Iron: lean meats & seafood have the most readily absorbable iron, but you can also get it from fortified cereals, beans & lentils, tofu, and even cooked spinach
Selenium: fish & seafood (tuna, halibut, shrimp, sardines are a few top contributors), meats, cottage cheese, eggs, brown rice
Vitamin A: sweet potato, carrots, cantaloupe (think orange-colored fruits & vegetables), black-eyed peas, broccoli
Vitamin B6: beans, fish (salmon, tuna), fortified cereals, potato, turkey, banana
Vitamin C: fruits & veggies are the best source of this vitamin, especially citrus & tomatoes
Vitamin D: fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, swordfish, sardines), fish oils, fortified milk & juice
Vitamin E: nuts & seeds such as almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts & sunflower seeds, nut & seed butters, sunflower oil, safflower oil, cooked spinach, cooked broccoli, kiwi
Zinc: meat & seafood are the best sources, but milk, yogurt, cheese & beans also contain some zinc
3 - Feed Your Gut Microbiota
Science is learning so much about our gut microbiota and symbiotic relationship they have with us. One fact we have learned is how important the beneficial bacteria are to our immune system. It turns out they help stimulate it to work properly through signaling properties.
Promoting the survival of the good bugs is also essential to helping keep out harmful (or pathogenic) bacteria. The best way you can support your gut microbiota is to eat enough fiber. Fiber provides prebiotics, which is the food for our microbes. Fiber comes from plant foods: whole fruits (not juice), vegetables, whole grains and plant-proteins like legumes, beans, nuts & seeds.
Some of the best probiotic foods are: apples, artichokes, asparagus, bananas, barley, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, mushrooms, oats, onions, and soybeans (tofu, edamame, etc.).
4 - Stay Hydrated
Drinking enough fluids to stay hydrated is especially important this time of year. The heat blasting everywhere we go dries out our skin and mucous membranes. Our skin is an important protective barrier against bugs that make us sick. So making sure to get enough is essential to keep your skin and mucus membranes hydrated. There is no hard and fast rule about how much you should drink or eat to meet your hydration needs. But a few simple recommendations I share with clients are:
Stick to water most of the day, leaving other beverages for special occasions.
You’ll know if you’re drinking enough when your urine is usually light yellow to clear. If it’s dark yellow (& you didn’t recently take a vitamin), then that’s a clue to start hydrating yourself.
If you have a hard time with room temperature or cold water, go for a hot tea. Sometimes I’ll even heat up water to drink as is, or even with a squeeze of lemon.
For every alcoholic beverage, drink one glass of water.
5 - Wash Your Hands
This may seem obvious, but it’s worth repeating. Proper hand hygiene is the #1 way to prevent illness. It’s just five easy steps:
Wet your hands with water.
Add soap & rub hands together.
Lather & scrub all areas of your hands for at least 20 seconds. If you aren’t sure how long that is, sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
Rinse your hands with water.
Dry hands using a clean towel or air dryer.
If you don’t have access to a sink to wash your hands, the next best option is an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
6 - Get the Flu Shot
The flu vaccine s the best way to protect yourself from getting the flu. It has been shown to reduce the number of flu illnesses and hospitalizations. The shot can even help reduce symptoms in the event you get the flu. It’s important for herd immunity, which protects individuals who can’t get the vaccine for medical reasons. Plus it’s free in most places so there really is no excuse not to get it.
The CDC recommends everyone six months and older get an annual flu shot. If you want to know more about the vaccine, how well it works and safety information, check out the CDC’s website.
P.S. it’s not to late get your flu vaccine! Contact your doctor’s office or check out your local pharmacy.
7 - Get Enough Sleep
This can be a challenge when there are holiday parties to attend, final exams to take & work deadlines to meet. But your body does so many important things when you sleep! Keeping you healthy is one of them. If you start to feel under the weather, make sure you get as much sleep as you can. A good benchmark is to shoot for 7-9 hours per night on average.
8 - Stay Physically Active
Regular exercising can boost your immune system. Try to keep up with staying active to the best of your ability during this busy season. But also beware of over-exercising or over-extending yourself. Give yourself the flexibility to modify your exercise routine based on how you feel. If you usually do super intense workouts but feel run down, try a restorative yoga class or a calm walk on the treadmill. It’s even okay to skip a workout if needed. Give yourself that option sans the guilt.
How do you keep yourself up and running in the cold weather months?
Sources for this article are as follows: