Keeping the Flu Away: What You can do besides washing your hands
(Originally Posted at my earlier blog, pudgegetsfit.com on January 20, 2018.)
If you've been keeping up with the news, you've probably heard that this is the worst Flu season in 8 years. And if you happen to have fallen prey to it already, you believe it. It's miserable, and I just heard on Good Morning America that it's spreading just from a contagious person breathing. No coughing or sneezing required. Sooooo.... doing your part to stay well (and hello, I don't care what your momma taught you about sharing-- keep yo germs to yo self!) is absolutely a matter of utmost importance, even if you got your flu shot this year. (In North Carolina, it's estimated that this year's flu shot is only about 10% effective.) You know to wash your hands, and doing the best you can to stay away from germ hubs, but here's what you may not know:
Dehydration is your worst enemy--especially during flu season. You know how important staying hydrated is to weight loss and well-being. You've heard it so many times you probably zone out on it. But proper hydration plays a HUGE role in your ability to stay well and fight off nasty, tenacious germs. I hate the word mucous (almost as much as I hate the word moist. Shudder.) but healthy mucous membranes are your biggest ally right now. Mucous membranes line the inside surfaces of things like your nose, lungs, stomach, and throat. (Plus others!) They produce...wait for it... mucous, which keeps these surfaces soft and pliable, which in turn protects them from germy invaders. A new friend of mine helped me with this helpful analogy: When you're dehydrated, your mucous membranes become like having chapped, cracked lips. Remember the last time you ate a lemon or hot sauce when your lips were like that? Yeah. But when your mucous membranes are working properly because they are properly hydrated, they keep the unwanted stuff out of the places it doesn't belong. Staying properly hydrated also helps so many other things that will help also help, including regulating your body temperature, keeping your mood stable and cravings at bay, and mitigating nasty headaches. (Ok, so that's the quickie rundown-- google it if you want to know everything that dehydration affects!)
Nutrition is EXTRA Important. The first thing I teach my clients is to think of food as fuel for the body. You think you have a lot of work to do? Try being your body. It has to digest your food, blink your eyes, keep your heart pumping, heal your wounds, keep your muscles and joints healthy, think, breathe, and thousands of other things. Oh, and you're asking it to fight off the flu, too? Then you better give it what it needs to do all those jobs. The macronutrients (fats, carbs, and proteins) have specific functions in your body, but so do the micronutrients (your vitamins and minerals.). Did you know that zinc, copper, iron, selenium, folic acid, and Vitamins A, B6, E, and C all play a role in immune system function? So even if you're keeping a close watch on your calories to make sure you're not over and under, your job doesn't start there. Your job is to make sure you're using your calories to meet these needs. In other words, Oreos *might* fit into your macro ratios for the day, but they aren't giving your body what it needs to do its work. Choose nutrient dense foods--the more colorful the better.
You NEED to squash your stress. I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but stress plays a major role in how your body behaves-- and this is especially true when it comes to your immune system function. Every time I took exams in college or graduate school, I'd push and push and push, sometimes for weeks on end. And with 100% accuracy, I'd get sick. To make matters worse, I'd usually get sick enough that it knocked me down for most of the break. I bet you had a similar experience. Stress and Immune System function have an inverse relationship: The more stress you have, the lower the efficiency of your immune system. Not that you were looking for another reason to practice self care, but this is it. For more reading about stress, check out Why Zebra's Don't Get Ulcers. (Link at the Bottom of the Post). If you're looking for a way to start squashing your stress, consider meditation. I'm going to do a whole post on this, but for now, understand that even a few minutes of focusing on your breathing can have huge impacts on your health. For more reading on Meditation, I LOVE Dan Harris' book 10% Happier. (He's the news anchor that flipped out on national tv from an anxiety attack).
Make Foods Your Friends. Lots and lots of foods can help boost your immune system function. Some of my favorites that I use whenever I can are garlic, coconut oil, ginger and honey. (If you want to know more about what spices do for your body, check out Healing Spices. (Amazon Link at the bottom). You can do some research, but many things that you have in your cabinet have anti-bacterial properties. For a boost of vitamins and minerals (that also does a great job of supporting your electrolyte balance with a good dose of potassium, consider adding in Low Sodium V8. 12 oz has nearly 1/3 of your daily potassium need.) Your immune system lives in your gut, and your gut is kept happiest when it gets good bacteria. Adding in Greek Yogurt, Kefir, or other fermented foods can be a big help.