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How to Keep Your Immune System Strong

01.09.2012 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

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There's still a few months to go until Spring time, which unfortunately means a few more months of cold weather and flu season. Luckily the Redskins team nutirionist, Jane Jakubczak, has some tips on how to keep your immune system strong throughout the winter!

What is the immune system?

The body’s defense system against foreign substances such as viruses and bacteria.

How can we keep our immune system strong?

- Plenty of rest
- Proper hygiene
- Adequate physical activity
- Good nutrition

Getting plenty of sleep enables the body to repair and restore itself.

- If you are fighting an infection, rest allows your body to concentrate and spend all energy on the task at hand, getting you back to health.
- Experts suggest adults need 8-9 hours a sleep per night, children and adolescents need 10-12 hours per night.
- Consistency in sleep throughout the week is better than trying to catch up on the weekends.
- For more information on getting a good night sleep, click here.

Proper hygiene is an important defense against the common cold!

- Many viruses and bacteria are spread via hand to mouth/eye contact.
- Washing your hands frequently with warm soapy water for 10–30 seconds is optimal and avoid touching your eyes and nose. 
- Use a paper towel to turn off facet and when touching the doorknob.
- For more information on proper hygiene to prevent illness, click here.

Get adequate physical activity; not too much and not too little.

- Exercise increases the body’s core temperature much like a fever, creating environment viruses and bacteria can’t live in.
- If you have a fever or if your symptoms are below the neck, it is best not to exercise.
- For more information on exercise and illness, click here.

Practice good nutrition to keep your body healthy.

This can significantly reduce your risk of becoming ill as well as reduce the length of time you are sick. Eating variety, moderation and balance is essential to staying healthy:
- Variety – enjoy a variety of foods to ensure you get the more than 50 nutrients our bodies need to function properly.
- Moderation – eating an appropriate amount of food, not too much, not too little.
- Balance – eat something from all the food groups everyday; this will guarantee you hit all the major food groups.

Let’s get more specific on nutrients...Science has shown that good nutrition can strengthen our body’s ability to fight off infection, viruses/bacteria and even diseases such as cancer.

Antioxidants play a starring role on the defense team:

Vitamin C – taking mega doses to prevent colds is not shown to be effective, however, some studies show it may shorten the duration.
- Doses larger than 200mg a day result in limited intestinal absorption and regularly taking more than 2000mg daily can cause abdominal cramps, nausea, and diarrhea.
- Consuming the RDA of 75mg for women and 90mg for men and 35mg more for smokers per day is adequate.
- You can find this much in a single orange or kiwi fruit, 8 oz glass of citrus juice, 1 cup broccoli, 1 cup of cantaloupe or strawberries or ½ cup of sweet peppers.

Vitamin E improves T-cell immunity. T-cells marshal an army of lymphocytes and other defenders that attack and destroy foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria.
- A dose of 200 IU/daily appears to be adequate. RDA is 30 IU.
- More than 1000IU per day may cause an increased tendency to hemorrhage. It acts as an anti-coagulant so those who have bleeding or clotting disorders or take the drug Warfarin need to speak with their physician before taking Vitamin E supplements.
- Vitamin E can be found in vegetable oils, wheat germ, nuts and seeds.

Zinc has been shown in test tubes to slow the growth of rhinoviruses possibly shortening the life of a cold.
- Practice caution with the amount of zinc you take though; getting more than 40mg a day of zinc for an extended period can weaken your body’s antioxidant defenses, lower your HDL’s (the good cholesterol) and make your immune system less able to fight off disease!
- The RDA is 15 mg.
- If you take a multivitamin + have a bowl of Total cereal + take a zinc pill you could have 40 mg before walking out the door in the morning!
- Zinc can be found in ground beef, wheat germ, garbonzo beans and sunflower seeds.
- For more information on antioxidants, click here.

Protein makes up the building blocks of the body, including the immune system.
- Lymphocyte and other white blood cell activity are impeded by a deficient intake of protein.
- Protein can be found in dairy, meats, fish, nuts, seeds, beans and eggs.

Don’t forget water as an important nutrient!
- Liquid maintains saliva levels and circulating antibodies.
- Regular intake prevents mucus membranes from drying out.
- Both saliva and mucus are first-line defenders against pathogens.
- They “wash” the throat, mouth and bathe the respiratory tract with antibodies that discourage viral replication and bacterial attachment.

I wish you a very healthy New Year!

- Jane

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