The clocks have gone back, temperatures have dropped and flu season is just around the corner. To have or not to have a flu jab is the question some of you may be asking yourself. Many years ago I had a flu jab and within a few hours I was laid up in bed with a raging temperature and vicious flu symptoms that lasted a few days. Now that I know more about holistic and mind-body medicine I know that whether or not the flu jab works for you is highly individual and depends on your genetics, your current health status, and even your beliefs.
- My preference these days is to do whatever I can to create the foundations of a healthy, robust immune system so that if I am attacked by a bug, including the influenza virus, it doesn’t knock me over or at least, I recover faster. Naturally this includes washing my hands regularly and taking some supplements to keep my vitamin levels up. But there are a few other ways of kick starting your immunity (and there’s some good science behind them too).Breathe optimally – as a physiologist I once spent years in a City clinic observing people’s breathing patterns. I noticed that many of my clients, for all sorts of reasons, were breathing sub-optimally and in a way that was triggering stress, insomnia, fatigue and reduced immunity. Deep, belly breathing is healing because of the effect on your parasympathetic nervous system – that vital part of the nervous system involved in maintaining the health of your body and, importantly, your immune system. How to use this tip: Consciously check your breathing 5 times per day – on waking, as you drift off to sleep at night and find a few other times when you can mindfully tune in to your breath. Focus on the out breath. If you find it’s fast and shallow, drop it into your belly, exhale, let go and relax. Do this for a few minutes each time. Do it right now!
- Minimise sugars, stimulants and alcohol – Even moderate alcohol consumption suppresses the central nervous system and therefore your immune system. Caffeine stimulates your sympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system involved in stress) and suppresses the parasympathetic and consuming too much sugar can also suppress the immune system making it harder to fight off infection.
- Old fashioned chicken soup – yes there are ingredients in mum’s old fashioned chicken soup which really do boost immunity. Ensure that your broth includes anti-inflammatory ingredients like ginger, garlic, turmeric, decongesting chillies and lemon juice for a vitamin C boost. Vegetarians can make a veggie version of this broth although there is some evidence that the amino acids released from cooked chicken do have a specific inhibitory effect on viruses.
- Nap your way to health –I’m a great advocate of the 5-20 min power nap and try to do them whenever I can. But there’s also a type of nap called the ‘replacement nap’ that can specifically boost the immune system and can stop the early stages of flu development or speed up recovery. But this isn’t just getting into bed and spending hours asleep – it has to be done in quite a specific way. How to use this tip: set a timer or alarm and rest/sleep for 40 mins (and no more) at some point between 2 and 4pm. For an even more powerful immune boosting effect, combine this nap with yoga nidra – deep progressive muscle relaxation that strengthens the parasympathetic. Do this at the first sign of a cold or flu or to alleviate symptoms.
- Choose happiness and keep moving – I promised 5 but I’ve given you 6 tips in this issue of my newsletter. Good scientific evidence shows that both exercise and happiness boost the body’s production of antibodies. Both directly increase levels of T cells (kill viruses) and lower levels of immune-suppressing stress hormones. So dancing like a mad thing to your favourite playlists ticks the box on all levels! Other powerful immune-boosting ploys include watching your favourite comedy and having a genuine laugh, counting your blessings or keeping a gratitude journal. Remembering a time when you really laughed or felt profoundly happy – even thinking about that time and holding on to the feeling can boost your immunity.
All of these techniques can boost your immunity in the short term. For lasting benefit, do them regularly for the next 21 days until they become a natural and lasting part of your life.
Yours in amazing health and energy!