1. Build up your defences
"The best way to support your immune system is to maintain your general health with a balanced diet, gentle exercise and sufficient sleep," says Professor Ronald Eccles of Cardiff School of Biosciences. Of those three, Eccles says diet is the major factor, so make sure yours contains plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains as well as enough protein and healthy fat to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need to power your immune system and help your body recover from illness.
If you’re not eating as well as you could, consider supplementing your diet with multi-vitamins containing antioxidant vitamins C and E that help fortify your natural defences.
2. Get outside - without sunglasses
"Even on cloudy days when the sun seems hidden, a daily dose of natural daylight provides you with an immune-boosting shot of vitamin D," says Dr Marilyn Glenville, nutritionist and author.
You can get vitamin D from some foods but the best source is through sun exposure because your body makes the vitamin when it’s exposed to sunlight. "Since the body absorbs the majority of vitamin D from sunlight through the eyes, make sure you get at least 20-30 minutes of natural daylight everyday, ideally without sunglasses, glasses or contact lenses." But, of course, don't forget it's still important to protect your eyes from direct sunlight.
3. Get (herbs and) spicy
Herbs and spices don’t just add flavour to your food, they can also help prevent you from getting ill. That’s because ingredients such as cinnamon, chilli and garlic have particular immune bolstering properties. "Garlic acts as a powerful immune booster that stimulates the production of infection-fighting white blood cells while cinnamon has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties and chilli peppers contain capsaicin, which can help stop sickness before it starts," reveals Dr Glenville. So if you want to stay well, get cooking!
4. Top up with tomatoes
Whether you prefer them in salads, sauces or soup, tomatoes are worth including in your diet. An immune-boosting power fruit, they’re packed with antioxidants including vitamins A and C, and contain significant amounts of lycopene, which can improve your immune response, boost your resistance to infectious disease, encourage wound healing, and keep your skin in good condition.
5. Take a walk
Walking at a brisk pace every day for 20 to 30 minutes can help you stay well, according to American researchers who studied a group of adults and found that those who walked briskly had about 25% fewer colds than those who rarely or never exercised.
"Moderate exercise stimulates the production of immune cells which circulate through the body and kill bacteria and viruses, giving your immune system a boost," states Glenville. She recommends exercising for between 20 and 30 minutes, four to six times a week and choosing an activity such as cycling, walking or swimming that increases your heart rate and uses the large muscles in the body.
Words: Gabrielle Nathan