Healthy new habits to keep your immune system firing on all cylinders.

How are you feeling? A bit frazzled, no doubt. But is that 'high-temp-new-continuous-cough' frazzled or just the regular winter bleurgh?

Recently we've all become hyper tuned into our health, ready to pounce on sensations that might herald the arrival of Covid-19. According to mental health charity Anxiety UK, nearly half of British adults experienced high anxiety when the health crisis hit in March 2020. So, taking steps to support your immune system is a double win; you take control over health anxieties and raise your chances of staying healthy to boot! Here are some simple steps to bringing your immunity A-game...

1. Eat for your gut, not the 'Gram

    When it comes to a tip-top immune response, diet is a huge deal, as nutritionist Amaeze Madukah explains. "Around 70 per cent of our immune tissues are housed in our gut," says Amaeze. "Eating a varied range of fruit and veg is the best way to support a diverse population of beneficial gut bacteria." Yes, there are pro- and prebiotic supplements out there, but Amaeze recommends a 'food first' approach. "Aim for 30 different fruits and veg a day," she advises. "It sounds a lot but includes every ingredient such as herbs, onions and garlic."

    2. Kiss magic fixes goodbye

    It's tempting to believe one nutrient can turbo-charge your immunity, but with immune cells at work in our blood, tissues and some key organs, your whole diet is relevant. "Vitamin C in particular has been put on a pedestal during the pandemic," says Amaeze. "While it does have a role in supporting your immune system, it doesn't 'supercharge' your protection against illness." A varied, healthy diet will tick the box. "Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin so any extra you're getting in a tablet will just be expelled by your body as expensive pee." However, Amaeze does recommend a vitamin D supplement. "People are just realising vitamin D is vital in the regulating function of the immune system. Again, it's not 'the key', but supplementing is particularly important in winter when we're not getting the UVB rays our body converts into vitamin D."

    3. Be kind to yourself. No, kinder than that.

    Life can throw us many stressors, but lowering your body's alert level is an important part of the immunity puzzle. "Stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine tell our body to shut down key functions, including immune response," says Fran. "Simple things like laughing and prioritising self-care – really taking any opportunity to pamper ourselves – all help to switch off the stress response and allow our immune systems to return to factory settings."

    4. Stop doom-scrolling already!

    Swapping late-night screen time for healthier rituals can make all the difference. "Prioritising sleep is the single most important thing we can do to support our general health and specifically our immune system," says functional health coach, Fran McElwaine. "Sleep is the time when the body and brain detox, and poor sleep leads to a build-up of toxins which impair immune function."

    If you're already smashing a healthy routine – swerving screens, knocking out a few stretches and spritzing calming lavender oil (thank you Tropic’s So Sleepy range) – there's one more step. "Being outside during daylight hours, especially in the morning, helps to programme our brains to sleep better at night," says Fran. "Building a morning walk into your daily routine will benefit your general health."

    5. Move your body, baby!

    Physical activity – in particular regular, moderate exercise - is proven to increase infection-zapping white blood cells and slow age-related deterioration of your whole immune system. But are you getting enough? "Every movement matters," says pilates instructor and nutritionist Paola Langella (shapesstudio.co). "A workout doesn't have to mean sweating for an hour, it can be dancing in your living room or cleaning the house." Instead of beating yourself up about missing the gym or struggling to fit in a run, Paola says we can take a ‘little and often’ approach. "Throughout the day take 10-minute breaks to get in some squats, arm circles, some stretches and maybe a plank. Start low and stay consistent, then you'll see results."

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