Finally, Summer has arrived. If you’re taking time off, it’s a great time to relax, soak up some much-needed vitamin D and lower your stress levels. And, even if you continue to work through the season, it’s important to remember that we are constantly exposed to all kinds of new environments and factors that are potentially harmful.
Your immune system is usually well-equipped to swiftly deal with exposure to pathogens, often before they have a chance to cause symptoms. However, it can become overwhelmed, especially when we are exposed to factors that we don’t normally consider. This pandemic has brought to all our attention just how vital it is to maintain a strong immune system. So, no doubt you have been careful to consider your nutritional needs, physical activity and doing your best to lower your stress levels. And, while there are many benefits of taking a well-deserved summer break, it is important to remember that your body’s immune system does not.
It’s true, most often, low immunity arises when our exposure to pathogenic bacteria and viruses is high (e.g. from public transport, office environments, schools, nurseries) but, that isn’t to say you will not be exposed to pathogens during your time off. In fact, the chances are high that during your summer holiday, you will be exposed to more intense weather conditions, contact with others and even delicious indulgences.
Whatever your plans are for this summer, keep your immune system strong so that it can carry you through the festivities unscathed.
Here are my Top Immune Supporting Strategies to keep you resilient over the Summer:
- Get those ZZZ’s in!
Holidays are a great time to get more rest. Switch off your alarms and notifications. Even if you aren’t already sleep-deprived, by now, you know the long list of benefits a good night’s sleep has for you in every way. Holidays are a golden opportunity for rest and repair. Research suggests that those who have less than seven hours of sleep per night are three times more likely to develop an infection, (like the common cold) compared with those who have 8 hours of sleep or more.
Our sleep hormone, melatonin, is a powerful antioxidant and, therefore, has a profound ability to modulate and strengthen the immune system. Make the most of the sunnier seasons and be sure you get your daily dose of Sunshine. When your body is exposed to sunlight in the morning, and throughout the day, it starts to set your body’s clock to rise when it is light and thus assisting you with better rest in the evening. Assist this natural process even further by shutting down your blue-light devices at night.
- Time to address all that unpacked stress.
Stress has so many impacts on our mental and physical health. One of the primary mechanisms is to dampen the immune response and increase inflammation (all part of supporting our survival in acute cases). Unfortunately, this makes us even more susceptible to infection over the long term. It can also deplete us of the very nutrients we need to have a strong immune system, notably vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium.
So even though you may not be spending your time behind your computer, be aware of the unexpected or less-obvious instigators of stress as they are easily disguised.
Even if you are not going away, find some time this summer to de-stress, whether that means doing some outdoor exercise, meeting up with friends or indulging in some quality me-time. Aim to fill your days with as many things that make you feel at your best. Think of it as your well-deserved self-care season.
- Spend time in Nature.
‘Shinrin-yoku’ is the Japanese term for mindful time spent in a forest, also known as forest bathing. Research shows that it can stimulate the immune system and improves wellbeing.
But don’t fret if your summer plans don’t include camping in the wilderness, any quality time spent outdoors is the idea.
Take advantage of the warmer weather and longer evenings. Get your friends involved and meet for walks, take the kids to the beach for the day or simply find a patch of grass to sit on and enjoy a picnic in the park. Even if you don’t consider yourself an outdoorsy person, Nature has surprising restorative powers. Find something outside that suits you. Stretch out your body with a breath of fresh air and a great view. Research also suggests that getting your bare feet onto a patch of grass is beneficial for stimulating parasympathetic response, allowing us to rest, recover and repair.
- Get your body moving.
I don’t need to tell you how important movement is for our mental and physical health. Yet staying active can be something that goes out the window when work deadlines approach or working from home might result in being more sedentary. Now is the perfect time to get your body MOVING. That isn’t to say you should diligently hit the gym while on your summer break. Get involved and take advantage of all the fun ways to get your heart pumping. Plan for a fun day out for a hike, or long walks on the beach, early morning swims, even messing around with a ball and the kids will get your heart pumping. Regular physical activity supports healthy weight management, aids the immune system, as well as lymph flow and the movement of white blood cells around the body. Exercise also increases your level of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. However, you choose to keep your body moving, remember it doesn’t have to be complicated -start small and choose activities that are enjoyable to ensure consistency.
- Side of greens, please!
This is normally the area in which we most neglect whilst on holiday. Either you’re not able to prepare all your meals or maybe you are just enjoying one treat after the next. Whether you are eating at home or eating out, keep aiming to get more variety of veg on your plates. An easy way to ensure that you’re still getting in enough fibre and other nutrients is to include some greens with every meal. Always choose a side of veggies or a salad when eating out or start your day by adding some greens into a tasty smoothie. Green veggies have many benefits for the body as they are packed with nutrients specifically; Folate, Vitamin K, Magnesium and Potassium, which are necessary for energy, immunity, and stamina. Our guts and mind will love it!!!
- Treat yourself to things that make you feel good.
Our immune resilience is low when we have too much alcohol, refined sugar, and processed foods. These things may give you some instant satisfaction but quickly you will start to feel the negative harmful effects they have on your immunity, mood, and energy. Listen to your gut and do and eat more of the things that you know make you feel good and enjoy your summer.
- Summertime supplements.
Probiotic and prebiotic supplementation is essential in the prevention and management of low immunity. Prebiotics, especially arabinogalactans, can also strengthen the immune system. Alone or together, they can influence the intestinal microbiota and modulate the immune response. With all the summer festivities, social calendars tend to be jam-packed, so keeping your gut healthy will help maintain your energy levels all through the summer.
Another factor to keep in mind now is maintaining good fat digestion. Poor fat digestion reduces the absorption of essential fats and fat-soluble vitamins, notably omega-3 and vitamin A and D, which can drive inflammation and suppress the immune system. Those with chronic digestive issues, such as coeliac disease, IBD, or gallstones, are at particular risk of this. Now is an excellent time to increase intake of other foods which stimulate bile synthesis and flow, including taurine, artichoke, turmeric, and dandelion. Consider supplementing with these herbals, as well as lipase enzymes to support fat digestion directly.