This is the season where the temperature starts to drop and flu season starts to well and truly kick in. Colds, runny noses, sore throats are par for the course so during this time it is important to try and keep our health and improve our immunity. The Corona virus outbreak had us all googling ways in which we could ‘boost our immunity’.
So what exactly is ‘your immunity?’
Your immune system is made up of your bodies defence against infection and illness. It basically operates like a defence system that fights off an unfamiliar germs, bacteria or parasites. These cells operate best when they are in balance and harmony!
Can we boost our immunity?
Whilst this is an enticing idea there has been no scientific evidence to suggest we can improve the number of immune cells (white blood cells) in our body (lymphocytes and phagocytes). We can rather bolster our protection against harmful viruses and bacteria by adopting some healthy living strategies such as:
– Eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables
– Not smoking
– Maintaining a healthy weight
– Exercising regularly
– Drinking alcohol in moderation
– Practicing proper hygiene such as hand washing and cooking meats thoroughly
– Getting enough sleep
– Trying to minimise stress
1. Fresh fruits and Vegetables:
What we do know is that the greater our intake of brightly coloured fresh fruits and vegetables, the better our health, weight and immune function. Fresh fruits and vegetables are packed full of vitamins and minerals, many of which play crucial roles in our daily immune functioning. Some nutrients such as vitamin C, have specific roles in fighting off bugs and keeping our cells healthy.
To optimise our immune system we need at least 5 serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit each day for good health, but when it comes to optimal immune function, 10 serves a day is a good target. Ten is the magic number of 80 gram serves of fruit and vegetables you should eat every day to most dramatically lower your risk of disease and death, says the Imperial College of London. That adds up to 800 grams per day of the healthy stuff!
When it comes to our meals and snacks every main meal should contain a palm size amount of whole protein (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans or lentils), a healthy fat (nuts, olive oil or avocado) and a variety of colourful vegetables . Mix up your colours as well as enjoying both fresh and cooked options to ensure you get a range of different nutrients from different foods. Try to incorporate a range of salads or fresh juices and grab a piece of fruit as a snack. Eating at regular times throughout the day will also support your adrenal health and balance your hormones.
Broccoli: is packed full of phenolic compounds, powerful anti-oxidants and anti inflammatories that reduce the risk or coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and asthma and keeps your cells young.
Vitamin D: you get from the sun, fatty fish, eggs or supplements. Studies have found that it does everything from improving strength in muscle and cognitive function to benefiting gut flora and preventing respiratory infections.
Fish Oil/Omega 3: can reduce the effects of a high fat diet by fighting the inflammation this causes by, spread the clearance of waste from the brain and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Magnesium: great for heart health like arrhythmias and hypertension to atherosclerosis and endothelial dysfunction.
Tumeric: an anti inflammatory and anti-oxidant that makes it a potent protector against cancers and ageing free radicals. It also improves brain function and lowers the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and depression.
Walnuts: high in vitamin B, fibre and omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts are packed with phenolic acids, tannins and flavonoids. They boost brain power, reduce cardio vascular problems and help prevent Type 2 diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin C: foods which are packed full of vitamin C include oranges, kiwi fruits, berries, tomatoes and red capsicums. They are full of anti-oxidants which offer positive nutritional benefits.
Garlic: helps to stimulate the production of macrophages (immune cells) in conjunction with vitamin D.
Iron and Zinc: are required to support proper immune function, and a deficiency may impair the ability of the immune system to ward off illness. Iron regulates cell growth and differentiation and is a structural component of many proteins and enzymes.
2. Exercise Regularly:
Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. According to ‘Harvard Health Publishing’ (2014)
“it may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently’.
Studies have also been conducted into whether there is a link between elite athletes undergoing intense physical exertion and whether they are susceptible to a weakened immune system. For now, even though a direct link has not been established, it’s important to recognise that moderate regular exercise is the best course of action of healthy living and keeping your immune system in check.
Australia’s physical activity guidelines according to “The Australian Government Dept. of Health’ website states that adults between the ages of 18 to 64 should be active on most days preferably everyday of the week. Accumulate 150-300 minutes (2 ½ hours to 5 hours) of moderate physical activity and or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intense activity, or an equivalent combination of both vigorous or moderate activities each week. Try to incorporate muscle strengthening activities at least 2 times per week.
Try to include incidental exercise like taking the stairs, walking to work, getting up from your desk every 30minutes and walking around. This makes a big difference to our health and wellbeing.
3. Stress and Immune Function:
Chronic stress or long term stress has been proven to depress the immune system and increases the risk of several types of illnesses such as digestive problems, increased heart rate, hypertension, and elevated cholesterol levels. Chronic stress raises the level of catecholamines. According to Everydayhealth.com (2015):
“These hormones are released in response to physical or emotional stress. Catecholamines are hormones produced by the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys. … Catecholamines are released into the bloodstream when you’re physically or emotionally stressed”.
Being stressed out leads to increased levels of suppressor T cells, which suppress the immune system. When this branch of the immune system is impaired, you are more susceptible to viral illnesses including respiratory conditions like colds, flu, and the novel coronavirus infection. Stress leads to the release of histamine, a molecule involved in allergies. In order to manage our stress mindfulness techniques need to be practiced everyday even if it is just for 10 minutes. Try things such as yoga, meditation, breath work, stretching or if you are having trouble switching off download an app on your phone that can take you thru a guided meditation.
We all feel the benefits of a good nights sleep we wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world. Whilst more sleep won’t necessarily stop you from getting sick, skimping on it could adversely affect your immune system, leaving you susceptible to a bad cold or case of the flu.
Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. According to ‘The Sleep Foundation.org’,
“Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, causing a double whammy if you skimp on shut-eye. Chronic sleep loss even makes the flu vaccine less effective by reducing your bodies ability to respond’.
To stay healthy during the influenza season get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night. This will help keep your immune system operating at it’s optimum and also protect you from other health issues such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
5. Personal Hygiene
It goes without saying that practicing good personal hygiene is one of the most effective ways to protect ourselves and others against nasty viruses and bacteria. Ensure you wash your hands before and after preparing food and going to the toilet. Sanitise your hands after going to public places or gyms and cook meat thoroughly before eating.
Recently there has been a shift away from the terms ‘health and fitness’ to a more encompassing term used to describe our overall health called ‘wellness’. You only need to look on social media for an increase in the amount of people describing themselves as ‘wellness warriors’ using hashtags such as #nourishing and #fitmotivation whilst striking the latest Yoga pose. I should know! I am one of the converted as well!
The shift for me has been a positive one as more and more research has come out to support the fact that our overall health is made up of much more than what we put into our mouths and what type of exercise we do.
Whilst our diet and exercise play an important role in how we look and feel, these are just smaller parts to the bigger picture to what I describe as, our ‘Holistic Health’.
Our Holistic Health is comprised of the following 5 lifestyle factors:
We have somewhere between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts on any given day that is 35-48 thoughts per person per minute. As you can imagine that is a lot of information for our rational brains to process. When we think, we manipulate information to form concepts, engage in problem solving, reason and make decisions. Not all thoughts are deemed equal, and sometimes when we are under stress or are feeling tired or depleted our rational brain finds it hard to make decisions and think positively this can be described as ‘stinking thinking’.
Long-term stress can wreak havoc on our physical health thru the presence of injuries and mental health concerns. If left untreated, the ill effects of stress can lead to time off work, niggling injuries that don’t get better and even the breakdown of oneself and our relationships.
In order to maintain positive thinking and manage stress levels it is important to take time out everyday to ‘switch off’ from distractions and allow yourself to be present with your own company and thoughts.
Options to help manage stress levels include mental awareness apps such as ‘Head Space’ which encourage you to take 10 minutes out of everyday for some mental wellbeing activities. Other ways you can help manage your stress include participating in a Yoga class, practicing some meditation or Tai Chi and even doing some adult drawing or colouring in.
How we breathe effects the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood at any given time replenishing our brain and other vital organs with essential nutrients. We take on average 20,000 breaths per day which, makes it an important part of our health to get right.
Breathing correctly can reduce your stress levels, improve the performance of your workouts and boost your immune system. Poor breathing can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, hyperventilation and even insomnia and depression.
When we are stressed our body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode and our breathing becomes more shallow and frequent. This causes us to breathe like we are hyperventilating which in turn increases our heart rate, leading to palpitations and contributes to feelings of anxiety and being out of control.
In order to breathe correctly we should focus on what we call ‘diaphragmatic breathing’. This technique involves placing one hand on our chest, say our left hand, and our right hand on our abdomen. When we breathe in and out your left hand should remain still and your right hand should move up and down. If your left hand is moving your breathing is too shallow and you are not using your diaphragm correctly. Practice taking slow deep breaths in and out until you perfect the technique. Take note of how this correct breathing technique will help boost your workouts and your health.
The average amount of water contained in the human body is approximately 50-65% for the average adult person. Considering our bodies are largely made up of water then it is crucial that we consume enough good quality water on a daily basis.
Water in the body is responsible for flushing wastes and toxins thru the body as well as metabolising and digesting food. It is also the primary building block for all of our cells, as well as helping to insulate and lubricate the body, and assist in regulating our body temperature.
The research around how much water to drink does vary but you should aim to consume 35-45ml/kg of fluid which translates into about 2-3 litres per day. An active person who trains for longer than 40 minutes per day training at a high intensity should add an extra 500-1000ml a day with athletes or people exposed to extreme heat more again.
Generally, an indication of being thirsty is the bodies way of telling you, your already dehydrated. Just losing even 1% of the bodies water has an impact on our physical performance as well as impairing our mental performance. Up to 70% of people are dehydrated at any one time a result of drinking too much coffee, juices and smoothies which are loaded with caffeine and sugar.
If your having trouble drinking enough water daily, try carrying around a drink bottle with a slice of cut up lemon or lime. Add vegetables such as sliced up cucumbers, carrots or mint leaves for a fresh zesty flavor. Add a glass of water before every meal and snack to help you feel fuller for longer and to stop the urge of wanting to overeat. Add a pinch of rock salt to assist in replacing essential minerals and salts lost thru perspiration as well as to help slow down the urination process.
Life is a about balance and when it comes to nutrition nothing beats a strong foundation of carbohydrates, good fats and proteins or what we commonly refer to as macronutrients. Where a lot of people get it wrong is when we start eliminating certain food groups in an attempt to lose weight often replacing proteins and carbs with foods loaded with hidden sugars.
The need to refuel throughout the day will largely depend upon your workload and individual energy requirements. If for example, you are a Personal Trainer like me and get up before 5am every morning to train and work, then I often need 2 small meals before lunchtime to keep me going. If you exercise during your lunch break you may find that you need a small snack before you train and a bigger meal after training to help manage hunger and energy levels or vice versa. As a general rule of thumb try not to leave longer than 3-4 hours between eating as this will help regulate your blood sugars and prevent you from overeating at your next meal.
Your 3-4 meals a day should consist of lean proteins to help build lean muscle and keep you feeling full as well as good fats such as olive oils, avocado’s nuts and seeds. Green vegetables such as spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, beans and peas should be eaten with every meal to ensure you boost your immune system and help you get all of your essential vitamins and nutrients in.
We are a nation of alarming statistics with obesity levels on the rise with data from the ‘National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey’ (NHANES 2013-2014) stating that ‘1 in 3’ adults were considered to be overweight. More that ‘2 in 3’ adults were considered to be overweight or have obesity and ‘1 in 6’ children between the ages of 2-19 were considered to be obese.
‘Sitting’ has become the new ‘smoking’ with the majority of our adult population sitting at a desk for 8-12 hours a day up to 5 times a week. It’s no surprise then that the incidence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is also on the rise, this is adding more strain to an already overflowing health system. According to the U.S division for “Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention’ about 630,000 Americans die from heart disease every year – that is 1 in 4 deaths. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. According to the report also, the estimated cost of covering health care services, medications and lost productivity is approximately $200 billion each year.
Coupled with the heart disease facts is our current statistics on the incidence of diabetes. According to the “National Diabetes Statistics Report’ from the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)), 30.3 million Americans have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes that is 9.4% of the population. From this 30.3 million people, 7.2 million are undiagnosed which means they do not even know that they have it.
Alarming statistics aside, a strategy to help improve our current health situation is to get moving more often. When clients ask my advice on how often they should exercise my response is always ‘everyday’. Now this may seem a little excessive but exercise doesn’t always have to be in a gym environment it could involve taking the dog for a walk after work, swimming laps in your lunch break or playing some social sport of a weekend.
Try to stick to exercise that you enjoy doing as you are more likely to stick with it long term. For those times when you think your motivation may be an issue enlist the services of a Personal Trainer who can design workouts specifically tailored for you or grab a workout buddy as you are less likely to cancel on them.
When it come to exercise variety is the ‘spice of life’, your body is very good at adapting to exercise so ensure you do a variety of cardio, resistance training, body weight exercises and stretching.
Ultimately, the responsibility of our health and wellness comes down to 1 person….which is ourselves. In order to not be a statistic of disease we have to move more and watch the amount of processed foods and drinks we consume.
Perhaps one of your goals for 2018 is to prioritize your health, which involves quitting the excuses and putting more time into your physical and mental wellbeing.
In today’s world there is so much noise around healthy eating which can range from what diets work, the types of foods you should be eating and even what food groups to cut out. It’s no wonder then, when we decide to embark on what I like to call a ‘Healthy Food Plan’ not a ‘diet’ that we end up more confused then when we started.
To help cut through some of this noise I try to follow this simple philosophy when it comes to food and nutrition, how you look is 70% dependent upon what you eat and drink and 30% on what you do. Therefore Abs are definitely made in the kitchen and finessed in the gym.
Here are my top tips when it comes to Nutrition:
1. Cook to lose weight
When you prepare your food you know exactly what ingredients go into it, there are no hidden oils or excess sodium unless you put them in there. Often when we buy takeaways or even salads it’s the hidden extra’s that can cause bloating or a creeping weight gain at the end of the week. Preparing your food allows you to control exactly what’s going in.
2. Understand Portion Sizes
In an era of everything being ‘super sized’ avoid the temptation of ordering extra servings of food and drink that you don’t need. When we talk about serving sizes ‘1 hand’ is all you need. 1 protein serve = the size of your palm, 1 fist = a serving of vegetables, 1 cupped hand = a serving of carbohydrates and 1 thumb = a serving of fats. Try to listen to your appetite centres and stop eating when you are full rather than finishing the plate.
3. Drink your food and chew your water
Chew your food until it turns into liquid form as this assists with the digestion process. Large chunks of undigested food can ferment in the stomach causing bloating and food allergies. Hold and swish water around in your mouth a few moments before swallowing which can also assist in the digestion process.
4. Does it fit my Macro’s?
Wherever possible, to stave off cravings and to avoid overeating try to eat a protein, carbohydrate and fat source in every meal and snack. This provides the body with the right amount of sustenance and ensures you don’t crave sugar or carbs at the dreaded 4pm slump. Eating these macronutrients will keep your energy levels on an even keel which will improve your mood and ability to concentrate.
5. Don’t undo all of your hard work on the weekend
I have this very conversation with the majority of my clients who thrive on the routine of Monday to Friday but when it comes to the weekend their food and exercise habits fall apart. When we talk about having a ‘cheat’ meal it is exactly that, it is not drinking a bottle of wine and eating a large pizza plus dessert. Try not to go crazy on the weekend, rather relax your food a little bit but try and get some outdoor exercise on at least one of the days. Some great incidental exercise is spending some time in the garden, stand up paddle boarding, walking the dogs or swimming with the kids.
My 16 month old generally wakes me up bright and early and whilst I am getting her a bottle I will whizz up my Protein Smoothie. This includes approximately 250mls of coconut water, a serve of clean protein powder, 2 x Tbs of organic greek yoghurt, a tsp of chia seeds, frozen berries and a drizzle of honey. As I generally workout in the morning and have back to back clients I need the natural carbs from the fruit.
On the weekends I indulge with some sour dough toast topped with smoked salmon, avocado mash and cherry tomatoes – delish!
Macchiato is my reward to myself after a hard workout which generally consists of 60mins of H.I.I.T, running or weights. After my workout I am generally hungry and will raid my daughters lunch box and eat whatever she has left which is an apple and some grapes or brown rice cakes.
Being a busy mother of 2 I prepare a lot of my food the night before and this works a treat when you have a toddler at home to look after. My ‘Go –To’ meal for lunch is chicken breast with roast vegetables. I generally oven roast the day before sweet potatoes, pumpkin, beetroot, carrot, onion and capsicum and sprinkle with rock salt, rosemary and olive oil.
Other ‘Go-To’ meals include whipping up a leafy green salad with chickpeas, spring onion, feta cheese, olives, sun dried tomatoes and some form of protein like smoked salmon, tuna or chicken.
Afternoon Tea for me is a must. Training a lot and being on my feet all day (I average around 20,000 plus steps a day) means I have a very efficient metabolism which needs to be fuelled every 3-4 hours otherwise I get ‘Hangry’ (tired and angry). Again I pre prepare some frittata or quiches (minus the pastry) which can be easily heated up. Caramelise the onion, toss in some mushrooms, capsicum and spring onion to give it plenty of flavor.
Dinner – Both my husband and I train clients in the afternoon so we take it in turns in getting dinner ready. One of his specialities is his sweet potato skins which are topped with sour cream, ham and cheese combined with a serving of protein. I tend to make a shepards pie once a week (without the pastry) using organic mince and topped with a half and half of sweet potato and potato if we feel like indulging.
I try not to eat after dinner but if I have a craving it is generally for chocolate!!! These days I tend to opt for an organic chocolate or a dark chocolate and try and restrict myself to a couple of squares!!
For every glass of alcohol you consume make sure you drink a glass of water to keep yourself hydrated and in control.
Rather than drinking full strength alcohol try a beer shandy or a white wine sprizter and save yourself half the calories.
Make sure you eat before you head out so you are less likely to overindulge on party food or have too much to drink.
There are a multitude of low calorie and low carb beers and wines to choose from these days to assist you in watching your waist line.
Don’t allow other people to top up your glass especially if you are driving, ensure you know what a standard drink looks like.
Avoid the Punch Bowl or the Slushie Machine these drinks a full of sugar and therefore calories and contain large amounts of alcohol.
Try not to socialize around the buffet table – out of sight is definitely out of mind.
Don’t succumb to peer pressure when it comes to drinking and food. Just because it is offered does not mean you have to eat/drink it. Instead opt for healthy appetizers and sensible drinking.
Don’t beat yourself up too much if you have a splurge on your favourite dessert or cocktail. Rather hit the gym the next day or go for a run instead to burn off those extra calories.
Keep in mind there are no ‘quick fixes’ to weight loss, crash dieting before an event will only lead to bingeing down the track. Instead opt for a healthy eating plan and aim to move your body for at least an hour everyday.
Breakfast: 2 x Eggs, Avocado, Tomato and Spinach, Whole Wheat Toast
Snack: Red or Green Apple
Lunch: Multi-grain Wrap with Tuna, Salad and Avocado
Snack: Tub of Greek Yoghurt with Strawberries
Dinner: 150-200g of Chicken Breast with Roast Sweet Potato, Pumpkin and Green Beans
Breakfast: Coconut H2O Shake, Frozen berries, Chia Seeds, 2 x Tbs Yoghurt
Snack: Punnet of Strawberries
Lunch: Chicken Nicoise Salad
Snack: 12- 15 Almonds, Carrot and Celery Sticks
Dinner: Salmon Steak with a Greek Salad and ½ cup of Brown Rice
Breakfast: Oats, Sprinkle of LSA, Fresh Berries, 2x Tbs Yoghurt
Snack: 2 x Hard Boiled Eggs
Lunch: 2 x Brown Rice Sushi Rolls
Snack: Corn Thins with Tomato and Ham
Dinner: Beef Stir Fry with Crisp Asian Vegetables
Aim to drink a minimum of 2 litres of water per day. Follow this diet and you can lose .5 to 1kg per weeks.