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Skip the Sickness

For fitness fanatics, there’s nothing quite as frustrating as having to avoid the gym because of a nasty cold. And while there’s no way to guarantee that you won’t come down with a case of the sniffles this winter, there are quite a few things we can do to make it less likely to happen. Our immune system is responsible for fighting off the viruses and bacteria (a.k.a. germs) that are constantly trying to make us sick. These germs actually favor and multiply faster in the cold, dry air that winter brings, so our immune system takes a beating this time of year, leaving us more susceptible to sickness.  Luckily, muscles aren’t the only things we can strengthen in our body, so today we’ll take a look at a couple ways we can bulk up our bodies security guard, the immune system.


EAT YOUR VEGGIES

Plant foods contain biologically active compounds called phytochemicals that provide a wide array of health benefits that we can’t get very many other places. Of interest for this topic, one of these benefits is that phytochemicals are one of nature’s best known immune boosters. Our bodies can convert these compounds to vitamins that are critical to fighting off sickness and disease. They also function as antioxidants, which reduce the oxidative damage that free radicals cause. Side note if you’re interested: free radicals react with important cellular components like DNA or the cell membrane, which can lead to the cell functioning poorly or dying.

So where can we find these miracle workers called phytochemicals? Dark green, red, orange, and yellow veggies and fruits pack the most, so pick up some spinach, beets, and bell peppers on your next grocery trip.

Related: 3 Key Elements of a Successful Nutrition Plan


EXERCISE

Over the last 20 or so years, we’ve gathered plenty of evidence that exercise improves immune system function, but scientists still aren’t exactly sure how. One theory is that when we exercise and breathe heavy, we flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. Another explanation is that during exercise, antibodies and white blood cells (two types of key immune cells) circulate faster and are therefore able to detect germs earlier and prevent them from multiplying. Yet another theory is that the temporary rise in body temperature we experience during a workout can prevent bacteria from growing.

Finally, one possible explanation is that the benefit exercise provides to our immune system is actually a product of the slowed release of stress hormones following a workout, but we’ll explore this more a bit later. Regardless of which of these theories is correct, it’s no debate that getting your sweat on helps prevent getting sick. Quick disclaimer though: intense exercise temporarily depresses the immune system, so working out once you’re already feeling sick might only make things worse, so keep this in mind.


DESTRESS

Along with the colder weather, this time of year tends to bring quite a bit of stress for many of us. Whether its looming deadlines or a long to-do list that’s causing your stress this season, the hormones that pump throughout the body when we’re stressed interfere with our immune system. Stress creates chronic inflammation that harms our bodies cells and tissues, and suppresses the immune cells that are needed to fight off infections. Stress also makes it take longer to heal after we do get sick, so clearly that stress isn’t doing much good for our bodies. So when you feel that tenseness take over, destress in whichever way works best for you. Take some alone time, read a book, or even better, get some sleep. Immune cell counts drop even further when we’re not getting enough sleep.

Related: 7 Bedtime Routines to Help You Sleep Tight


While the science of getting sick can be fairly complicated, the ways we can try our best to avoid it can be much simpler than we think. Eating the right foods, moving your body, and letting go of stress are three things we can control that will leave our immune system strong and ready to fight off the onslaught of germs facing us every day. And by staying healthy, we’ll be able to continue to crush our goals in and out of the gym.

Related: Slipstream Holiday Survival Guide

–Jay Alexander

Coach/Trainer

jay@crossfitslipstream.com