Being consistent with your training is vital in the ongoing pursuit of your health and fitness goals. But you also need to stay well when working out if you’re going to get where you want to go.
Try these 3 key strategies to help your immune system to function at its best.
1. Balance your activity
Regular exercise helps to support your immunity and helps increase the circulation of macrophages (white blood cells that ‘attack’ infectious microorganisms). However, if you exercise too much, without adequate recovery time, your immunity may suffer and your susceptibility to illness may increase. So you can get too much of a good thing! Look out for the warning signs of overtraining so you know when it's best to scale things back, such as a drop in your physical performance, lack of energy, soreness in the muscles or joints, and increased irritability and mood swings. Mix up your workout, maximise your results and stay well by:
- Cross training - Perform different activities to vary the load on your body, such as paddling one day, and jogging the next.
- Alternating intensity - Periodise your training. Plan periods of higher intensity training to peak for an event or goal, and then taper off with easier workouts afterwards.
- Scheduled recovery - Aim for at least 1-2 days of rest or stretch days each week, especially if some of your activity is intense.
2. Prioritise sleep
Sleep is a time when the body repairs itself after exercise. It's also a period of restoration and recharging for the immune system. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that there is an important link between sleep quality and the immune system. The researchers found that people who slept less than seven hours a night were almost three times more likely to develop cold-like symptoms after exposure to a rhinovirus. Participants who experienced poor quality sleep fared even worse, and were 5.5 times more likely to develop the clinical symptoms of a cold, highlighting the importance of sleep for a healthier immune system. Some key sleep habits to adopt include:
- Create a good sleeping environment - Ensure your bedroom is cool, dark, quiet and well ventilated.
- Establish a regular sleep schedule - Get up around the same time every morning, seven days a week, to help your body develop a consistent pattern.
- Go to bed early - Try to pick a few nights a week to get to bed early instead of sleeping in on weekends.
3. Nourish your body
To keep your immune system in prime condition, it needs fuel and micronutrients. The quality of your diet will often reflect the quality of your immune system. A shortfall in your vitamins and minerals intake could undermine your ability to fight infection. Adopt good nutrition habits to help keep your immune system firing.
- Cut the junk - The processing of foods alters its nutrient balance, and can deplete your body of important vitamins and minerals. Avoid packaged foods as much as possible, and include a wide variety of whole foods in your diet such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts and seeds.
- Eat more super foods - While no single food is really "super", there are some foods that are either bursting with goodness, or have a reputation as an immune booster. Eat more garlic, green tea, blueberries, broccoli, kale, cultured yoghurt, quinoa and oily fish.
- Supplement your diet - If you struggle to stick to a healthy diet, or just want to make sure your immune system gets all the support it needs, supplements may help.