Nobody likes getting ill. Apart from anything else, it hurts and having your sinuses completely packed, and throat scratching like sandpaper is really no fun at all.
But what’s perhaps more frustrating, is that a cold prevents you from doing the things you want to do. Romance is put on hold when your face is leaking from just about every hole. Any chores you had to do will fall by the wayside. If you workout or exercise, then that’s got to stop. If you’re a parent, you’ll worry endlessly about giving it to your kid (because looking after a sick child is even less fun). And while taking a day off work might sound like fun on paper… it typically comes with no small amount of guilt and illogical fear that you’re going to get fired.
And yet some of us experience constant sickness: back to back colds that seemingly never go away. We end up limping through winter, and even the summer isn’t safe.
Apart from everything we just mentioned, this also suggests that your low immune system may be leaving you susceptible to more serious illnesses with potentially longer-lasting consequences.
It’s time to fix up your health and get your immunity back on track. Fortunately, there are a number of effective ways you can accomplish just that!
One of the single most important things you can do to strengthen your immune system is to start spending more time outside. The number one reason this works so well, is that it provides your body with a much needed shot of vitamin D.
According to studies, vitamin D might actually be more effective than the flu vaccine at preventing both flus and colds1.
This makes a lot of intuitive sense too. Think of the “outdoorsy people” that you know: the people who are always surfing, cycling, and generally spending time in the sun. These people always seem to be full of energy, and they very rarely appear to get ill. This may not be a coincidence!
There are other benefits to being outside as well. You’ll be breathing fresh air for instance, which makes a nice break from breathing in your gems in a completely sealed room!
Being outdoors also means exposing yourself a little to the cold, which we will see in a moment is actually really good for you.
Take Cold Showers
Many of us associate being cold with getting ill. You might remember your mother telling you to “wrap up warm or you will get a cold.” This association might have something to do with pneumonia and other conditions that are caused by prolonged and extreme cold exposure.
In truth though, you are actually less likely to get ill if you regularly expose yourself to the cold! There are a few reasons for this. One is that bacteria actually find it harder to survive in the cold, meaning that there are likely more germs circulating in your home than there are outdoors.
The other issue is that the cold helps to strengthen and support your immune system, effectively by testing it. It’s almost like training!
When you are very cold, you are slightly more susceptible to getting ill if you are exposed to harmful bacteria. If you are not – as would be the case sitting in your garden or taking a cold shower – then this simply forces your immune system to function under stress. This is the positive type of stress (eustress) that can then lead to adaptation and growth.
In other words, by constantly submitting your immune system to hardship through the coldness, you make it more resilient and better performing under more challenging conditions.
Taking regular cold showers is a brilliant way to do this and will also help to support good circulation by causing vasoconstriction, not to mention building mental resilience, AND boosting your testosterone2.
Reduce Stress and Meditate
One of the biggest reasons you get sick all the time, is that you are probably chronically stressed. That is to say, that if you work a job that you find even slightly stressful, if you have a busy and unpleasant commute to work, and if you have lots of pressure in your personal life… then your immune system is working at a constantly sub-par setting.
When we are stressed, this puts our body into a survival mode3. The body believes that we are facing an immediate physical threat, and to help us cope with that, it will send more blood and energy to the muscles and to the brain to help us think of a solution/fight/run away.
This means that energy and blood are being routed away from secondary systems such as our immune system and even our digestion. That in turn leaves us vulnerable and over time makes us much more likely to get ill.
This isn’t the same as taking a cold shower because it is chronic and ongoing – the immune system never gets a chance to take a break. What’s more, is that it is happening while we are in the most dangerous places from the perspective of getting ill: shops, offices, planes, trains…
One of the very best things you can do to support your immune system and to recover quickly from illness is to get more sleep.
When we are stressed, our body goes into the fight or flight mod that we just described. This is also known as a catabolic state.
When we are asleep however, this is the opposite state. This is the “rest and digest” state that is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system: an anabolic state. It is during this time, that the body can set about rebuilding tissue, fighting infections, strengthening memories, and generally doing important admin. This is how you recover from the day.
So, if you are having consistently stressful days and then coming home and getting no sleep, you are breaking yourself down more and more without ever getting the chance to recover. Prioritize 8 hours of sleep a night, and you will INSTANTLY find you become less susceptible to colds, flus, and everything else.
Expose Yourself to a Variety of Bacteria
There are two ways that this works.
First: by exposing yourself to more people carrying colds and flus, you can actually build up more antibodies and create a better resistance against future illnesses. This is why teachers will never get sick and the same goes for nurses. You might be going through a period of constantly feeling sick right now if you have started a new job, or moved town. But once you’ve adapted to that environment and built up the necessary defences, you will feel better.
The other thing to keep in mind, is that not all bacteria is bad. In fact, we are increasingly learning about the importance of a balanced “biome” of diverse bacteria. It is often the good bacteria that keeps the bad bacteria at bay – and this can be thought of as being similar to the kind of balanced ecosystem a good gardener will maintain.
The problem is that we use a lot of bleach products and shut all our windows. Therefore, our homes are almost sterile, making them fertile breeding grounds for any bad bacteria that should arrive. And what kind of bacteria introduces itself still? The kind that your guests bring in and then sneeze all over your kitchen countertop.
The solution is to keep your windows open, to use organic products, and to recognize that occasionally exposing yourself to a little dirt is actually very good for you.
Eat a Nutritious Diet
The other really important thing you can do, is to support a balanced microbiota within your gut. You can do this by eating a highly balanced diet: studies show that people who eat a broader range of food, actually have a stronger immune system thanks to a more diverse range of bacteria in their system4.
Eating a balanced and varied diet also means you’ll get more nutrients, many of which help our body to protect itself against bacteria. Nutrients like vitamin C can make a huge difference in supporting the immune system, as can any and all antioxidants.
Modern diets are typically compromised nearly entirely of unhealthy processed foods that have had all of the useful nutrients stripped out. This leaves us susceptible to all manner of illnesses and health complaints. Solve this problem by making sure you eat as many fruits, vegetables, and natural sources of protein as you can. The more steps it took to produce, the less healthy it likely is for you!
Follow these tips, and this might just be the year you manage to avoid getting ill altogether!
- Study: Vitamin D is More Effective Than the Flu Vaccine
- Cold Showers > Top 4 Reasons Why They Are Good For You
- Overtraining And How to Enhance Recovery
- Peak: The New Science of Athletic Performance by Marc Bubbs