5 Ways To Support Your Immune System This Winter

Posted in: Wellness

Five ways to support your immune system this winter

It’s fair to say that building a healthy immune system and keeping bugs at bay has been on many of our minds over the last couple of years. As we head into winter again, when ills and chills tend to ramp up, this becomes even more important. There are many healthy behaviours we can adopt that support our immune strength, as well as supplements that can give you the extra boost you need. We’ve put together some of our top immune supporting tips below. 


  • Move your body every day

Regular physical activity has numerous benefits for health, including the optimal functioning of our immune systems.1 While it’s easy to think that being physically active requires high level exercise, the good news is that it’s much simpler than this. Any moderate movement is health supporting, and in fact, extremely intense training regimes can actually deplete our bodies and necessitate extra support.1 The current guidelines for physical activity recommend we get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous intensity physical activity.2 If you break it down, this looks like around 30 minutes of activity on at least five days of the week. The goal is to find an activity you enjoy and do it regularly, as it’s the consistency and what we do most of the time that matters! Brisk walking, moderate cycling, dancing, or even active playing with the kids are all enough to reap the health benefits. It’s an added bonus if you can get at least some of this activity outside, as the Vitamin D your body absorbs from sunlight plays a role in immune function, as well as supporting the health of your bones.3


  • Prioritise your sleep

With busy lifestyles and our attachment to our screens, quality sleep doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. But being well rested and sleeping for an adequate amount of time every night has a huge influence on our overall health and how we feel, including our ability to fight off illness.4 There are various ways you can help yourself to sleep better, from engaging in good sleep hygiene practices to supplementing with sleep supporting vitamins and minerals. Sleep hygiene refers to the behaviours and routines we have around sleep times and the effect they have on our ability to get some quality shuteye. Good sleep hygiene includes turning off screens an hour prior to bedtime as the blue light can interfere with melatonin production, reducing or eliminating any caffeine in the afternoon or evening, engaging in restful routines that help prompt your body that sleep is coming (for example, gentle stretching, reading, drinking a calming caffeine free beverage), and ensuring you have a dark, cool sleeping environment. Whenever possible, timing your sleep to align with natural circadian rhythms also benefits sleep quality.5


Despite our best efforts, some of us finding getting to sleep and staying asleep difficult, and in these instances, sleep supporting supplements can also be a helpful addition. Supplementing with magnesium in the evening is a popular choice, as magnesium is known to prompt relaxation and promote a good night’s sleep due to its role in neurotransmitter regulation.6 Magnesium is also a component of many multi-ingredient sleep formulas. Other sleep supporting ingredients include valerian root, passionflower, and tart cherry.


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  • Eat well

Keeping your body fueled with a diet rich in healthy wholefoods provides not only the sustained energy you need to get the most from your day, but also plenty of immune supporting benefits. To keep your immune system in tip top shape you require an optimal intake of vitamins and minerals including iron, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc7, and most of these needs can be met by focusing on balanced meals and snacks that hero vegetables, fruits, healthy proteins (such as lean red meat, poultry, seafood, and tofu), legumes, wholegrains, and nuts and seeds. In addition, consuming probiotic rich foods to help good gut bacteria thrive may also support immune health.8 Probiotics are naturally found in fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, miso, and pickles.


Although we can get everything we need from a well-balanced diet, preparing these meals can sometimes be more difficult! If you frequently find yourself short on time and your diet lacking as a result, then a multivitamin can help to fill in some of the gaps and ensure you’re getting everything you need to keep your immune system healthy. Others who may benefit from supplementing to support any dietary gaps include those who follow vegetarian or vegan diets, or those who have dietary restrictions for other reasons such as allergy. 


  • Reduce stress

Reducing stress can sometimes feel easier said than done! However, minimizing stress as much as possible and engaging in activities that promote stress management can have a noticeable effect on your overall health, and make a big difference to your immunity and ability to fight off bugs that come your way. When stress levels are high, particularly over a prolonged period and when stress becomes chronic, the immune system is weakened.9 This occurs because high levels of the stress hormone cortisol reduce the number of infection fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes, which leaves you prone to more frequent bouts of illness.10 Stress may also have a negative effect on the immune system indirectly, as when we are highly stressed we are more likely to engage in behaviours that don’t support good health, such as eating an unhealthy diet, getting less and poorer quality sleep, engaging in less frequent exercise, drinking alcohol, or smoking.10


Finding time each day to practice stress reducing techniques and activities that lower your cortisol levels can be beneficial for improved health and immunity. Some of the stress management behaviours that have been shown to help include the practice of mindfulness and meditation (there are lots of apps available now to guide you through these activities), regular yoga practice, spending time connecting with friends and nurturing social relationships, and getting consistent physical activity. Taking a few moments whenever you can to do activities you enjoy like listening to music or reading can also have a positive impact!


  • Consider immune supporting supplements

When you do find yourself sick or with an increased likelihood of exposure to infections, or when you are going through a period of heightened stress, giving your body a helping hand with immune supporting supplements can be a good choice. Two of the most popular supplements for immune support are Vitamin C and Zinc, which can play a role in both the prevention and treatment of illness (particularly the common cold) and reduce the length that symptoms are experienced.11 Vitamin C and Zinc are often included together in immune supporting formulas or may be taken separately as well.


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  1. Nieman, D. C., & Wentz, L. M. (2019). The compelling link between physical activity and the body's defense system. Journal of Sport and Health Science8(3), 201–217. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009
  2. New Zealand Ministry of Health (2021). How much activity is recommended? https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/healthy-living/food-activity-and-sleep/physical-activity/how-much-activity-recommended
  3. Aranow C. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of Investigative Medicine59(6), 881–886. https://doi.org/10.2310/JIM.0b013e31821b8755
  4. Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., & Haack, M. (2019). The sleep-immune crosstalk in health and disease. Physiological Reviews99(3), 1325–1380. https://doi.org/10.1152/physrev.00010.2018
  5. Suni, E. (2022). Sleep Hygiene. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene
  6. Abbasi, B., Kimiagar, M., Sadeghniiat, K., Shirazi, M. M., Hedayati, M., & Rashidkhani, B. (2012). The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, 17(12), 1161–1169.
  7. Calder, P.C., Carr, A.C., Gombart, A.F., Eggersdorfer, M. (2020). Optimal nutritional status for a well-functioning immune system Is an important factor to protect against viral infections. Nutrients, 12(4), 1181. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12041181
  8. Yan, F., & Polk, D. B. (2011). Probiotics and immune health. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology27(6), 496–501. https://doi.org/10.1097/MOG.0b013e32834baa4d
  9. Dhabhar F. S. (2014). Effects of stress on immune function: the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Immunologic Research58(2-3), 193–210. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12026-014-8517-0
  10. McLeod, S. A. (2010). Stress, illness and the immune system. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html
  11. Rondanelli, M., Miccono, A., Lamburghini, S., Avanzato, I., Riva, A., Allegrini, P., … & Perna, S. (2018). Self-care for common colds: The pivotal role of vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, and Echinacea in three main immune interactive clusters (physical barriers, innate and adaptive immunity) involved during an episode of common colds-practical advice on dosages and on the time to take these nutrients/botanicals in order to prevent or treat common colds. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: eCAM2018, 5813095. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/5813095
2022-05-18 02:38:00
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