I usually fly through winter feeling untouchable by the cold and flu season, feeling sorry for those affected by not just one but often two or three colds during this time. Unfortunately, this year I was not so lucky and had my first cold in a long time last week. I guess doing snow angels in the blizzard immediately after a strenuous workout wasn’t the best idea I’ve had. It sure was fun though!
Did you know that endurance athletes are more susceptible to infections than your moderate exerciser?
I know, it sounds wrong, but it’s true. There are two main reasons that we win the more likely to get sick award:
- More exposure to pathogens: during your workouts you are breathing at a faster rate and breathing deeper, and this increased ventilation boosts the chance of introducing an airborne pathogen into your system. The harder the workout, the higher the risk. The more workouts, the higher the risk.
- Increased stress: this comes in many forms – physiological, psychological, environmental, inadequate diet, poor sleep. Stress hormones have a direct impact on your immunity: higher stress, lower immunity.
So, whether trying to stave off a cold or recovery quickly when getting one, these tips will help boost your immunity and get you back in the game of life!
Limit your exposure:
I’m sure you’ve heard this one a million times, but that’s because it’s worth repeating! Wash your hands, frequently. You are most likely touching more sensitive areas on your body, so stop touching your mouth, eyes and nose. Do not sneeze or cough into your hands, instead use your ‘cough pocket’ (aka crook of elbow) for those activities.
I know it’s hard to give the kids away for the winter, so teach them to do the same. Wash their hands immediately when they come home, we all know they are walking germ buckets. I’m sure they are lovely, just full of germs.
Try to avoid crowds, the sick person at work, and the snifflers and coughers on the train.
Limit the stress hormones:
Most endurance athletes won’t back down from the physiological stress of their workouts, but you can help yourself by paying closer attention to your mental health, environment, diet, and sleep. Maybe it’s a good time to start a meditation practice or take a vacation, change the air filters on your HVAC and listen to your body when it wants more sleep.
Now to the diet. There are so many things that you should be doing to maintain optimal health throughout the winter, here are a few to add to your checklist.
- Hydration: dehydration increases stress hormones, so keep the water intake up. Not only will it keep you hydrated but it will also keep up your saliva flow; your first line of immune defense resides in your saliva so it’s important to stave off a dry mouth this time of year. Many people find it helpful to get a humidifier for their home since dry air can increase a dry mouth while you sleep.
- Protein: Just one of the many reasons that protein is so important. Protein deficiencies increase the likelihood of opportunistic infections by impacting the production of certain immune cells. Hit your daily targets.
- Vitamin D: it’s responsible for immune cell signaling and activation and the winter months can take a toll on our Vitamin D levels when our skin doesn’t see much sunlight. Have your levels checked as part of your annual blood work.
There are many more nutritional strategies to keep your immunity high, but you’ll be off to a good start with these three.
If staying healthy during this time of year has been a struggle for you, really take notice of each of these areas that increase your stress hormones and decrease your immune response and make some changes. Or reach out to us, we know how to help you.