Health Habits

Healthy Habits for the Immune System

            Each passing season brings changes that affect our immune system. While changing seasons are not the ultimate reason for illness, they do bring changes that affect the immune system. The changing seasons bring about different eating patterns, food-related traditions, affect food availability, and changing weather that affects physical activity. Where we live geographically affects the amount of sunlight we get, exposes us to various molds, dust, pollen, mildew, and weeds, and determines how we get physical activity. As you may see, so many factors affect the immune system. You probably wonder, “Is there anything I can do?” The answer is yes. 

            As always, maintain a healthy diet.  A healthy diet is one that is well-rounded and rich in fruit and vegetables. The occasional treat and holiday or celebratory food are more than allowed. When we incorporate a variety of food in our diet, we make sure our bodies are benefitting from the different nutrients the food has to offer. For example, fruit, vegetables, grains, and legumes contain fiber, which feeds the bacteria in the gut. Gut health has been linked to stronger immune systems. Epidemiological studies find that poor diets contribute to susceptibility to bacteria, viruses, and illnesses. If you find that your diet is limited and feel that you need help creating new and sustainable habits, speak to a dietitian.  

            Sleep does a body good because cell repair takes place while we sleep. The entire body consists of cells, it's no wonder why sleep is important. Digestion occurs all day but slows at night. Glucose from food consumed during the day is used to help repair, grow, and rebuild tissue. When late-night meals are consumed, it is hard on the digestive system.  Late-night meals do not allow the digestive system to rest. Sleeping positions make it difficult for food to travel through the gut, causing heartburn, reflux, and indigestion. Such conditions make for unrestful sleep, impacting the immune system.  It is recommended that you allow 2-3 hours for digestion before bedtime to avoid digestion issues. 

            Aside from food, proper ventilation, and humidity in your environment may help. In the fall or winter, we tend to close windows and crank up the heater. Central heating can dry the air around you, creating an environment suitable for longer life and easy transmission. Cold weather encourages people to gather inside, bringing closer contact between people. Consider humidifiers to keep your airway moist. Humidity helps your body create an ideal environment to support mucus in the airway. Mucus in the nasal passages can help combat viruses. Seasonal allergy sufferers may also benefit from a humidifier.

This week’s health habit: Assess your diet, sleep habits, and environment. Many things may be out of our control, but we can make good food choices, create good habits, or improve upon current ones, and make small changes to our immediate environment for better sleep. 

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