It’s that time again: flu season is here. In addition to getting your flu shot, there are a number of ways to naturally boost your immunity and decrease the likelihood of getting the flu this year.
How can I naturally boost immunity?
Color your plate with lots of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain immune-fighting vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, zinc, and folate. Picking foods of various colors also helps to maximize your intake of antioxidants and phytochemicals which aid the body in fighting infection.
Tip: Try to get one piece of produce from each of the following color categories everyday: red, orange, yellow, green, blue/purple/black, and white/tan/brown.
Make sure to get your zzzzs
Sleep is directly related to immune function, so not getting enough increases the risk of infection. Most adults need at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
Tip: Avoid any screens when you’re going to bed. The blue light can disrupt the quality of your sleep.
Aerobic exercise helps to naturally boost the body’s virus-killing cells. Additionally, exercise helps with stress management—and feeling relaxed can help to boost the immune system. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (such as walking) per week and at least two days per week of resistance training for at least 20 minutes per session.
Tip: If you struggle to get enough exercise, try breaking up your routine into 10-minute intervals throughout the day.
Smokers get more colds and flus than non-smokers. Additionally, smoking exaggerates the immune system’s response to viruses, making the symptoms more severe.
Tip: Not sure where to start? Try tracking your cigarettes and what is triggering you to smoke throughout your day. Then, try to address one trigger at a time.
Quench your thirst
Aim for at least 8 to 10 glasses of fluid per day. Water is the best choice since it hydrates without adding any extra calories to your daily intake. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks as they act as diuretics. They actually dehydrate you as you drink them!
Tip: Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day and continuously refill it as soon as it’s empty to remind you to drink throughout the day.
There is evidence that certain supplements may help aid the immune system. Vitamin C, echinacea, and elderberry have been shown to be effective at reducing the risk of contracting flu in some cases. Make sure to check with your doctor before supplementing to minimize any side effects or interactions with medications.
Tip: Not into pills? Try getting a supplement in the form of a gummy or a tea.
How can I avoid exposure to the flu?
Wash your hands
Germs from the flu virus can live on objects, such as keyboards, telephones, or glass for hours after initial contact. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds after going to the bathroom or handling an object you think might be contaminated.
Tip: Carry hand sanitizer with you just in case soap and water are not available.
Avoid coughing and sneezing into your hands
While this may not decrease your exposure, it may help to save your family and friends from the virus. Viruses cling to bare hands, so try not to cough or sneeze directly onto your hand.
Tip: Don’t have a tissue? Try coughing or sneezing into your elbow if nothing else is available.
Avoid touching your face
Flu viruses enter the body through your eyes, nose, and mouth. Avoid touching your face to reduce the risk of the virus disseminating into your body.
Tip: Be wary of sharing eye make-up or other cosmetics with someone who recently had the virus.
Clean and disinfect surfaces
As previously stated, the virus can live on objects for hours after exposure. Be sure to disinfect areas that are touched several times per like doorknobs, phones, keyboards, and light switches as these are the places most likely to carry the virus.
Tip: Disinfectant wipes can be a quick easy way to wipe things down without having to bother with spray. Keep them handy in each room if possible and be sure to wipe things down before or after use, especially if someone has the flu.
Avoid large crowds
It’s very easy for germs to pass around quickly in a crowded space. The flu can spread easily in a workplace, school, or public forum.
Tip: Though not always feasible, staying home and away from crowds—especially in the case of an outbreak at work, school, or your area—will decrease your likelihood of contracting the flu.
For assistance with implementing any of these tips, feel free to call a health coach, free with your UPMC insurance, at 1-800-807-0751.
Bacher, Renee. (2005-2019). Myths vs. Facts About Your Immune System. Retrieved Sept. 2019 from WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/features/boost-immune-system#1.
Cleveland Clinic. (2018, Nov. 6). Elderberry: A Natural Way to Boost Immunity During Cold and Flu Season?. Retrieved Sept. 2019 from the Cleveland Clinic: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/elderberry-a-natural-way-to-boost-immunity-during-cold-and-flu-season/.
Harvard Health Publishing. How to boost your immune system. (2014, Sept.) Retrieved Oct. 2019 from Harvard Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system.
WebMD. (2019) 8 Natural Tips to Help Prevent a Cold. Retrieved Oct. 2019 from WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/11-tips-prevent-cold-flu#1
WebMD. (2017, Oct 11). Are You Making Your Cold Worse?. Retrieved Oct. 2019 from WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/what-makes-colds-worse.