Even before this “new reality” we all have been thrown into, many women I know have been living increasingly stressful lives. Myself included. Juggling relationships and kids with full-time careers or ambitious personal goals, I know we all have hit those moments where they have felt like the to-do lists are endless. Add to it the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the current coronavirus pandemic, and it’s safe to say many of us are living a bit more on the edge than ever before.
If there’s one silver lining I’ve been able to find in this gloomy situation is that it’s forcing us to make lifestyle changes that will benefit our overall health and wellness for years to come. I’ve seen more and more people asking what they can do to boost their immune system; while there is no evidence that we can take preventative steps to ward off COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus), strengthening your immune system is something we should all be making a priority—pandemic or not.
This past year our household has seen its fair share of colds (our toddler just entered his first year of preschool). Despite sleepless nights and endless snuggles with sick kiddos, I’ve managed to stay healthy through the winter.
It’s probably not a big surprise that many of my tips relate to food. Good nutrition fuels the specialized cells and antibodies that fight off germs. If you’re prone to catching colds that’s an immediate sign that your body is rundown and asking for help—from good food, better sleep, and less stress.
Fighting off the cold or flu is, of course, not the same as what we’re up against now. But I think in times like these, when so much feels outside of our control, being able to do something feels better than doing nothing. The following tips and routines have always helped to keep my family healthy, and I hope they help you too.
10 Tips for Runners to Help Boost Immune System
1. Fill your cart with nutrient-dense whole foods.
Some of my favorite foods to help boost immune system are citrus, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, turmeric, fresh herbs like parsley, nuts, seeds, oats, legumes, fish, whole milk yogurt, grass-fed butter, and free-range eggs.
2. Enjoy a daily fruit + veggie smoothie.
During flu season, I whirl up a nourishing smoothie for our entire family every single morning. These smoothies pack in a combination of fruit and veggies and always include a healthy fat to help with nutrient absorption.
3. Embrace garlic breath.
Garlic has natural anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. For the most potent results it should be freshly minced and consumed raw. We’ve taught our 5 year old to take “garlic-honey shots”, which is simply a spoonful of local honey dipped in finely chopped garlic. The less brave can incorporate delicious foods like pesto, hummus, and guacamole into your diet. You can find recipes for all three of these dips in Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow.
4. Improve digestion.
A rock solid digestive system is essential to ensuring your body is absorbing the maximum amount of nutrients from the foods you eat. Everyone has certain foods that can throw off their digestion and it’s very different from person-to-person. Pay attention to how what you eat makes you feel. Eating mindfully (not while driving) and chewing your food improves digestion.
5. Slurp more soup.
Soup always saves the day. The combination of mineral-rich, digestion-soothing broth with a rainbow of veggies provides a much needed boost to our hardworking bodies. Check out this recipe for my go-to soothing soup when I’m feeling run down.
6. Get more zzzzzz’s.
This is a tough one and the area where I personally need the most work! I used to be a great sleeper until I had kids. For my sensitive system, I absolutely have to limit caffeine to only the morning. Keeping devices out of the bedroom and staying off my computer in the evening helps me get to bed on time. I’ve also invested in blackout drapes and a white noise machine, which goes with me when I travel.
7. Run (or walk) daily to reduce stress.
It doesn’t matter how far or how fast you go. A daily run or walk even if it’s just for 20 minutes will tremendously impact your mood, happiness, and stress levels. It will also improve your sleep (see previous tip).
8. Seek sunshine.
Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients for your immune system. Our indoor lifestyles are making us all more prone to viruses. Get outside daily and soak in direct sunlight and fresh air. Nature is always the best cure-all!
9. Supplement smartly.
Overdoing it with too many supplements can wreck havoc on your digestion. I highly recommend getting your nutrient levels checked by a doctor before you start popping too many life-promising pills. When I’m traveling or running high mileage and during flu season, I take a high quality whole-foods based multivitamin. I also supplement with vitamin D and cod liver oil. Otherwise I focus on getting my nutrient fix from real food.
10. Slow down to speed up.
A fast-paced lifestyle can take a major toll on our health. It’s amazing how much more you can achieve when you slow down and remember to breathe. Prioritize time everyday to do things that make you happy like cooking, reading, and spending time with friends and family.
Elyse Kopecky is a nutrition coach, chef, and two-time New York Times best-selling author. In her new exclusive “Food Is Fuel” monthly column, the co-author of Run Fast. Eat Slow. and Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow. will explore everything women want to know about how to fuel—from breakfast to snacks, to recovery, and on-the-go foods. Have a topic you’d like to have Elyse talk about? Email us at email@example.com.