Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you know that this year’s flu season has been the worst in recent years with widespread outbreaks and many deaths nationwide. We all know at least one person who has had the flu, and many of us have fallen victim ourselves. Even if you’ve gotten the flu vaccine, you can still get the flu because the flu vaccine doesn’t protect from all types of flu. Researchers try to determine which strains will be most prevalent in the coming flu season, and that’s how they determine what to put into the vaccine, but they don’t always get it right. You may get a different type than the flu shot targeted.
What’s more, because each year’s flu vaccine cannot protect against all types of flu viruses, this also means that you could get the flu again. There are two types of influenza viruses, Type A and Type B, and several subsets of each, so even if you’ve been sick already, you can get sick again with a different strain. As they say, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” That’s why it’s so important to continue to be vigilant when it comes to protecting yourself.
Regardless of what type of flu vaccine you’ve gotten, how meticulously you wash your hands, how much you sanitize your environment, or with whom you come into contact, whether or not you get sick boils down to one question: How strong is your immune system? Just because you’ve been exposed to an illness doesn’t mean you’re going to get sick. There are strategies you can adopt to give you greater protection against the flu or any other illness, for that matter.
Most strategies for staying well are focused on an outside-in approach. While that’s better than nothing, and inside-out approach is far superior. Our bodies are equipped to heal themselves as well as fight off foreign invaders. Our immune systems are a mighty army of specialized cells designed to fight off infections, but only if we keep them strong. While we’re busy sanitizing our outside environment, what are we doing for our insides?
There are a few things we can do from an inside-out approach that will help strengthen our immune system. We can get adequate exercise and sufficient sleep. It’s also important to manage our stress which exercise and sleep help us to do. Last of all, we must eat a healthy diet full of immune-supporting phytochemicals and antioxidants and avoid refined sugars
Current guidelines for exercise state that we should be getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity or a combination of the two. We also need to incorporate at least two days of strength training per week. We all know that exercise helps us to maintain a healthy weight, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, but it’s also important to remember that people who are healthier overall also have stronger immune systems. I’m not saying you won’t get sick if you exercise, but regular exercise is a great weapon to have in your arsenal against sickness and disease. It’s important to remember though, it’s not the only weapon. We cannot eat whatever we want just because we exercise regularly. For us to have the healthiest immune system possible, we need to be avoiding those processed foods with lots of added salt and sugar and loading up our plates with colorful fruits and vegetables instead.
The refined sugar we get from processed foods depresses our immunity – something we don’t need at any time, but least of all during flu season. Sugar curbs the ability of our immune cells to fight off infections, and that effect lasts for several hours, so if you’re eating refined sugars throughout the day, you are essentially opening the gates for invaders that want to attack your body. A good rule of thumb during flu season and every season is to ditch refined sugar! However, the same is not true about the sugar that is found in fruit.
The sugar that is contained in fruit is packaged with fiber, vitamins, and minerals that the body needs, and is not harmful as long as we are eating the whole fruit – not drinking fruit juice. Fruits and vegetables are filled with vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidants that boost our immune system and help us stay well.
For a more in depth look at all the amazing things that can be found in fruits and vegetables to promote health, check out my “Eat the Rainbow” series here: http://loriclarkfitness.com/seeing-red/
We’re getting adequate exercise, avoiding refined sugar, and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Is that all we need to do to boost our immune system? Not quite. We also need to make sure we’re getting enough quality sleep. That’s the time our bodies rebuild and repair, so if we want to be in prime condition to fight off the flu, we can’t skimp on the sleep.
Regardless of what you’ve heard, you cannot make up on the weekend for sleep you didn’t get during the week, so this needs to be a daily priority. Please don’t neglect this important weapon in your arsenal of wellness. When you’re sleep deprived, your immune system’s ability to fight off infections is suppressed because your T-Cell levels go down while inflammatory cytokines go up. T-cells hunt down and destroy cells infected with germs, so you want healthy T-cell levels, especially during flu season. For more information about sleep, you can check out these articles on my website:
I also highly recommend the book Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson if you are having trouble in this area.
I hope this article has encouraged you to take a more active approach in protecting yourself from the inside out. We have so much more control when it comes to our health than many of us think. It’s important that we take an active role in preventing sickness and disease instead of being on autopilot. I’m not saying to neglect the outside-in weapons either. By all means, continue to wash your hands often, use hand sanitizer, get a flu shot if you feel it’s necessary, and avoid sick people, but don’t forget to include your inside-out weapons in your quest for health. Get adequate exercise and sleep. Eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables, and avoid processed foods and refined sugar. When we are up against an enemy like the flu, we should be using every weapon at our disposal. Doing all these things doesn’t mean we will never get sick, but it sure increases our chances of staying well. Protect yourself, stay well, and I’ll see you at the gym.