Winter is well on the way and the festive season is fast approaching. For most of us, it’s one of the busiest times of the year, when we need to be fighting fit and full of energy. Ironically, the winter months are also when coughs, colds and all sorts of other viruses (including COVID-19) seem to be at their peak. So, knowing how to boost your immune system is absolutely vital. A weakened or low immune system makes us much more vulnerable to colds and flu – and experiencing more severe/long-lasting symptoms if we do succumb. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to strengthen our bodies’ natural defenses, and we’re here to help you learn more about them. The good news is that taking the right action now really can help to keep you healthy throughout the winter months and beyond.

Keep it clean Leading a healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to boost your immune system. But basic good hygiene also plays a key role – and it’s so easy to practise! Frequent, thorough hand washing is one of the best preventative steps to avoid infection in the first place. Cold and flu viruses are tenacious, and can survive for some time outside the human body. High traffic surfaces such as door handles, fridges, light switches and handrails on public transport are common sources of infection. So do take the time and effort to wash your hands regularly (and correctly) – paying close attention to the areas around your fingernails, between your fingers, and the backs of your hands. And freshly washed or not, try not to touch your face. Most of us do it without even noticing – on average, around 23 times per hour! Breaking this habit can really limit your exposure to, and transfer of, harmful cold and flu germs.

Sick young woman blowing the nose using tissue paper while sitting on the sofa at home

Watch what you eat

According to the famous saying, we are what we eat. Both our physical and mental wellbeing is directly linked to the food and drink we consume. There’s no shortage of research to suggest that following a healthy diet can strengthen your innate immune system. But when the days are cold and dark, it’s tempting to reach for stodgy carbs and sugary treats. Try to resist, and instead fill your plate with lean protein, fibre, legumes, dark green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits. Eating foods that are high in antioxidants is a great strategy for boosting immunity all year round. In the winter, consider adding plenty of ginger too. It’s warming, tastes great, and may even help to counter harmful inflammation. A low immune system is often linked to poor gut health. Fermented foods, such as kimchi and kefir, are rich in probiotics – ‘good’ bacteria that are widely considered to improve digestion, boost the immune system and help us maintain a healthy weight. Lastly, what you don’t eat and drink is just as important as the things you do. Avoid processed foods, excess sugar and too much alcohol; all of which can directly suppress certain immune system responses.

This is how to boost your immune system by moving more

Another way to bolster your innate immune system is with exercise. But you don’t need to run marathons or take part in triathlons to try to fend off colds and flu. Your starting point should be the idea that ‘something is better than nothing’. Over time, even a moderate 30-minute walk each lunchtime can make a big difference to your health and fitness. Finding an activity you enjoy is key, whether it’s swimming, running, yoga, Pilates, dancing or weight-training. Exactly what you do matters less than how often you do it, and how much effort you put in.

The really good news is that exercise can contribute to boosting immunity in lots of different ways. For example, it helps to increase blood and lymph flow as your muscles contract, and reducesstress and inflammation. More specifically, it’s thought that exercise improves the surveillance activity of the immune system – when immune cells are in the bloodstream are actively looking for infection. It may even reduce mortality rates from serious respiratory illness.

Vitamin D immune system

If you’re able to take some of your regular exercise outdoors, that’s even better. Our bodies create vitamin D – needed to absorb calcium and keep our immune systems functioning – from direct sunlight on the skin. Less natural sunlight means that our vitamin D levels are lowest in the winter months, but every little helps! Sunlight and fresh air are also natural mood-boosters. Exercising outside releases happy chemicals like dopamine and endorphins into our brain. These don’t just give us a natural high – endorphins are also necessary for proper immune function.

In addition to sunlight, Vitamin D is found in a selection of foods, such as oily fish, red meat and egg yolks, but it’s difficult to get enough from diet alone. That’s why the NHS recommends that most people (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) should consider taking a daily 10-microgram Vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter, to compensate for the lack of sunlight.

Boosting immunity with sleep

Getting plenty of sleep is another great answer on how to boost your immune system.. So if you’re keen to avoid succumbing to winter colds and flu, get yourself to bed nice and early. Sleep is an essential function that allows both your body and your mind to recharge. Most adults need between seven to nine hours’ sleep a night. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity.

There are three key sleep stages: light, deep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement). It’s the deep sleep stage that facilitates cell regeneration, when tissue growth and repair takes place. More specifically, recent research suggests that sound sleep improves immune cells known as T cells. These fight against intracellular pathogens: for example, virus-infected cells like flu. When cells in the body recognise a virally infected cell, they activate integrins – a sticky sort of protein – that allows them to attach to, and kill, infected cells. Studies show that getting sufficient sleep boosts integrin activation. So prioritising a regular, sensible bedtime really can help to keep you happy and healthy.

Here to heal

We offer plenty of modern remedies designed to help counter urban stressors, environmental and digital pollution, stress and fatigue. We also offer therapy as remedy. Our SOS Immune System Restore is the perfect treatment for boosting immunity. It can help to combat viral illnesses, coughs, colds, respiratory allergies, and post-illness exhaustion.

This unique treatment, which we customise for each individual client, combines a range of elements including steam inhalation, sinus decongestion, foot reflexology and lymphatic drainage massage. Follow us on Instagram (@ilāpothecary) to learn more about our award-winning formulations and treatments.