The flu season causes around 3-5 million cases worldwide, and, just in the UK, it is related to an estimated 30,000 deaths annually. Each year, the virus causing the influenza epidemic in the Northern Hemisphere is different and can be more or less aggressive.
It is true that, over the past two years, the global number of flu cases sank to an all-time low, and the number of deaths dropped to almost zero. But this year, the restrictions introduced to keep at bay Covid-19 and its variants are being lifted, which, according to Nature, could prompt a sharp rise in seasonal flu cases.
“While the SARS-CoV-2 and its developments are making the front page,”
Pharmacist Stuart Gale from Oxford Online Pharmacy tells abcmoney.co.uk, “Influenza and related respiratory illnesses are the ones to watch out for this winter.”
Luckily, some healthy habits can help you protect yourself and your loved ones, lower the chances of becoming ill because of the flu, and live a healthier lifestyle. Learn more below.
Follow a Balanced, Nutritious Diet
A healthy lifestyle can strengthen the immune system, and a strong immune system – alongside vaccines and self-distancing rules – can help you avoid getting seriously ill as a consequence of a flu infection.
There are many reasons why a healthy, balanced, varied, and healthy diet can help you boost your immune system:
- A diet rich in unprocessed, natural ingredients can help with weight management. In turn, maintaining a healthy weight can reduce inflammation and lower the risk of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease – all of which can compromise your immune system
- A varied diet can help you provide your immune system with everything it needs to fight off infections, including a range of iron, zinc, vitamin A, C, D, E, as well as antioxidants. Make sure to eat a range of unprocessed, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
- A predominantly plant-based diet can influence the gut microbiome, thus boosting the immune system.
Make Exercise Part of Your Daily Routine
Regular exercise offers many immune-boosting benefits, including:
- Lowering stress levels
- Causing the release of endorphins – or the happy hormone
- Promoting healthy blood flow
- Causing changes in the white blood cells, which are responsible for fighting infection
- Helping flushing bacteria out of mouth and lungs
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), you should strive to keep your body moving for at least 60 minutes a day. This might seem a lot, but you should focus on exercises that you enjoy – including walking, cycling, or cycling.
Get at Least 8 Hours of Sleep Every Night
Sleep is important for all bodily functions, including enhancing the immune system’s effectiveness. In particular, during sleep, the heart rate and breathing slow down, giving the chance to our bodies to focus on fighting bacteria.
Additionally, during the night, the body has the chance to replenish used energy and fight inflammation. As a general rule:
- Adults should sleep 7-8 hours per night
- Teens need around 9 hours of sleep
- Younger kids might need to sleep for 10-12 hours
Make the Right Lifestyle Choices
Some lifestyle choices – such as drinking excessively or smoking cigarettes – can significantly affect immune system functions, increase inflammation, and cause chronic diseases such as cancer.
Additionally, alcohol has been seen to suppress a wide range of immune responses, which can leave an individual more exposed to infections and flu symptoms. Because of this, smoking should be avoided entirely and, if you drink, do so in limited quantities!
Identify and Keep at Bay Stressors
Stress is our immune systems’ worst enemy – especially during the flu season. Indeed, as the levels of the stress hormone corticosteroid rise, it causes the number of lymphocytes drop. Lymphocytes – or the cells that have the role of neutralising harmful bacteria and viruses, are subdivided into many groups, including T cells and B cells.
In turn, it is easier for foreign invaders to break through your immune system’s defences and leave you exposed to infections. While almost three-quarters of all adults in the UK report feeling regularly stressed, you can lower your stress levels by exercising, meditating, cutting down stressors, and taking time for yourself.
Integrate Vitamins and Minerals
Even with a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle, you might not be able to integrate all the vitamins, nutrients, and minerals needed to keep your immune system strong. The levels of these compounds tend to drop during the winter months when we all spend more time indoors and indulge in comfort foods.
However, when the flu season peaks, we need our vitamin levels topped up especially during winter! So, you should consider integrating Vitamins C, E, B, and D, as well as Iron.
Practice Mindfulness and Spend Time in Nature
Over the past years, researchers have been focusing on exploring the connection between mental health, emotional balance, and immune function. Today, it has been confirmed that looking after our mental health also means improving the immune system’s function, thus adding an extra layer of protection against the consequences of flu infections.
Some ways to benefit your mental health and boost immune function include:
- Partnering with a mental health professional
- Spending at least 120 minutes outdoors or in nature a week
- Practising mindfulness meditation
Keep in Mind COVID-19 Measures
The flu virus spreads similarly to the Covid-19 one. One of the reasons why flu cases and deaths were so low over the past two years is that the restrictions and self-distancing measures introduced to protect us against Covid-19 also curbed the spreading of influenza viruses.
While this year some of these restrictions have been lifted, you can protect yourself and your loved ones by wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, and keeping your distance. If you have started to experience symptoms, you should not hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.
Consult Trusted Pharmacist
Even by following all of the tips above and committing to a healthy lifestyle, there is no guarantee that you won’t get sick. Influenza viruses can affect anyone, regardless of age or lifestyle.
However, by looking after your immune system and boosting its functions through a healthy diet, you can prevent severe complications such as pneumonia or lung or heart disease. And, you will get sick less often. In any case, finding a GP or pharmacist you can trust can help you keep your health in tip-top conditions.