THE HOLIDAY SEASON ISN’T usually associated with healthy choices. Between indulgent feasts and the stress of travel, the immune system takes a beating. But there are ways to stay healthy without skipping out on joyous (albeit hectic) traditions of the season.
Getting extra shut-eye is a good place to start. “My biggest tip for wellness is to rest and restore to revitalize,” said Sheila W. Marzouk, a doctor of audiology and a certified integrative health coach at Spot on Health and Wellness. “Power down and prepare for seven to eight hours of restful, restorative sleep. You will have more energy, make better decisions, strengthen your immune system and have fewer food cravings. Seems impossible? Start bedtime routines 15 minutes earlier until you are at your goal.”
Next, get pro-active. “During the holiday months, people tend to sleep less, exercise less and for sure, stress more,” said Jenn Edden, certified holistic health counselor, sugar cravings expert, author and empowerment coach. “This all has a negative impact on the delicate gut flora that reside in our large and small intestines…directly linked to our body’s ability to fight off colds, the flu and disease in general.” Edden advised taking a quality probiotic (she recommended the Metagenics brand) to help ensure all your healthy flora stays abundant.
Although it is the season for indulging in rich foods, nutritionist Nancy Mazarin MS, RDN, CDN said there are more benefits to being calorie conscious than just maintaining a slim waistline. Balance hearty holiday fare with meals rich in vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats—all clean foods that support the immune system. But one thing to pile up on is sweet potatoes, “the all-star potato,” according to Jourdan Brown, certified group exercise instructor and manager of the cycling program at Fitness Incentive in Babylon. The vitamins and minerals in sweet potatoes are crucial building blocks to fighting free radicals that can negatively impact everything from immunity to skin quality. “They’re loaded with fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, beta-carotene and antioxidants,” she said. Mazarin also recommended filling daily menus with yogurt, green tea, garlic, chicken soup or bone broth, mushrooms, citrus, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric to give immunity an additional jolt.
Staying active is just as essential to bolstering the immune system. Exercise positively affects immunity by flushing bacteria from airways and slowing the release of stress hormones. “The natural release of endorphins and increased energy level will help conquer holiday chores more effectively and keep off those extra pounds,” Brown said. Just don’t overdo it. More than 90 minutes of high-intensity exercise heightens susceptibility to illness for up to 72 hours post-workout due to the elevation of cortisol and adrenaline.
Avoiding germs in the first place is vital. Staying conscious of surroundings will up the odds of staying healthy, Mazarin said. Sterilizing surfaces that are often touched (such as doorknobs and light switches) and keeping away from sick people are obvious. But constantly washing hands is another effective way to minimize germ transfers; keep hand sanitizers nearby when soap and water are not available. By maintaining positive and healthy habits, consuming foods rich with probiotics and vitamins, and getting adequate rest, it is very possible to keep the immune system humming all season long.