During the winter months, it’s easier to get sick with the cold or the flu — which makes staying healthy this time of year even more of a priority.
Contrary to popular belief, eating chicken soup won’t cure the common cold and drinking orange juice won’t prevent you from getting sick. However, maintaining a healthy diet can help boost your immune system, which is vital to staying healthy long-term.
Your immune system is key to staying healthy this winter
Our immune system, which aids the body in defending against viruses and bacteria, is quite complex. This means that strengthening your immune system is not always as simple as getting more vitamin C in your diet.
To avoid getting sick this winter, the best thing to do is eat a healthy diet and maintain healthy habits, like getting regular exercise, adequate sleep and weight management. Eating a nutrient-rich diet, which includes eating lots of fruits and vegetables, can reduce one’s risk of serious or chronic health conditions, like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.
During the winter months, there are ways to get vital nutrients by adding certain foods to your diet. You might not eat these foods year-round, but now is a good time to add them to your diet. In addition to eating healthy, there are other lifestyle habits one can adopt this time of year that aid in cold and flu prevention.
Lifestyle changes to make or maintain in the winter months
Getting enough exercise, sleeping 7 to 9 hours a night and reducing one’s stress are three ways to naturally boost your immune system.
Regular physical activity can keep your immune defenses high and also helps you maintain a healthy weight, prevent diabetes and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol level. Even in the winter months, it’s important to exercise and engage in physical activity.
Adequate sleep is another big immune booster.
In addition to exercise and sleep, stress management also plays a role in bolstering your immune system. Activities like yoga, meditation and deep breathing are all ways to minimize stress, which could lead to fewer colds this winter.
Cold-weather foods to add to your diet
A healthy diet should include nutrient-rich foods, including fruits and vegetables. During the winter months, try adding these fruits and veggies to your diet for an extra immune boost:
- Pumpkin — Pumpkin is packed with nutrients, delivering more than 19,000 international units (IU) of vitamin A to your body. A half-cup of unsweetened pumpkin puree contains about 40 calories and pumpkin is versatile enough to be used in a variety of meals and dishes. Vitamin A is crucial for your vision and your heart, lung and kidney function.
- Cranberries — Cranberries are filled with fiber, containing 4.6 grams of fiber per raw cup. Fiber helps keep your digestive system running smoothly. Women should get about 21-25 grams of fiber per day, while men should get about 30-38 grams of fiber daily.
- Avocado — Avocados contain healthy fats and fiber that help your body absorb vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K. Eating healthy fats is key to a proper diet.
- Swiss chard — Swiss chard is known as a “nutritional powerhouse,” in that this leafy green is packed with vitamins A, C and K, along with being a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron and dietary fiber. Swiss chard can be massaged and added to salads and soups, or sauteed and mixed with quinoa or other veggies.
Boosting your immune system during the winter months is just as important as staying healthy year-round. As the weather turns colder, make a renewed commitment to your health, which can go a long way in preventing sickness and reducing the number of colds you normally get this time of year.