Finally, our last contribution in the "Fit through the winter series" deals with the five most important, general tips that strengthen the immune system. The first two articles dealt specifically with the right diet and exercise during the cold season. However, the immune system is fundamentally influenced by the entire lifestyle and not just by these two areas. We explain to you what is important and give you the recipe for a strong immune system in winter.
Some people ask themselves why it is even necessary to strengthen the immune system if the body already has defense mechanisms. That's because we're constantly exposed to countless viruses, bacteria, and pathogens. There are more than 200 viruses for colds alone, which circulate in the air and/or accumulate on surfaces particularly often right now during the cold season. It is therefore not possible to avoid germs in everyday life; Food can also contain pathogenic bacteria or environmental toxins, such as salmonella or arsenic.
Strengthening the immune system never harms anyone. There are a few tips that can easily be integrated into everyday life. If all of these influencing factors of the immune system are optimized, there is not much standing in the way of a winter without colds.
Getting enough sleep: Too little sleep stresses the body, weakens the immune system and increases the risk of catching a cold. Why? Because many essential bodily processes only take place during sleep, e.g. the production/release of hormones, proteins, defense cells and antibodies, the regeneration of the brain , muscles and tissue, as well as all metabolic processes. Those who sleep too little – according to studies, “too little” is less than five hours – have an increased risk of getting sick because of the lower immune response.
Most people need between six and eight hours of sleep a night to remain healthy over the long term.
2. Exercise & Sport
Sport, exercise and health are closely related. Studies show that regular physical activity has a positive effect on almost all areas of the body; including the cardiovascular system, digestion, the nervous system, the musculoskeletal system, the psyche, the immune system - to name a few.
According to the WHO, healthy adults should exercise at least 150 minutes a week with moderate intensity (endurance) and do strength training on at least two days a week.
Anyone who is afraid of the cold when running or cycling can confidently pursue outdoor sports. In the last post we explained why exercise in the cold outdoors is just as healthy and what points should be considered when doing sports in order not to get sick.
In fact, outdoor sports in winter can prevent a cold , since the body's defenses are strengthened by exercising in the cold. In addition, the movement and the temperature change between inside and outside increase the blood circulation in the body, which is also a factor that strengthens the immune system. This means that walks outdoors are also good for your health and you don't necessarily have to lace up your running shoes.
Sport and exercise in the fresh air also have the advantage that vitamin D is synthesized when the sun is shining . This is considered the most important vitamin in winter (see point 5) and also promotes serotonin synthesis, which improves mood.
Last but not least, sport reduces stress and high cortisol levels (see next tip 3) - a particular advantage in the early days before Christmas. By focusing on the execution of the movement, distance to everyday life, problems, worries and fears can be gained.
3. Avoid stress
avoid stress; too much or long-term stress is harmful to health. When there is stress, stress hormones, especially cortisol, are released, which on the one hand prevent the immune cells from spreading, which means that they cannot kill any/not all pathogens (-> immunosuppressive effect); on the other hand, recovery is impaired and slowed down. Furthermore, too high cortisol levels also affect the nervous and endocrine systems, which can also increase susceptibility to infections. For example, many people get cold sores after being stressed for a few days.
In addition to the immunosuppressive effect caused by stress, stress and chronically elevated levels of cortisol in the blood can lead to a number of diseases, which in turn impair the immune system:
Insomnia, chronic fatigue
high blood pressure and heart disease
irritable bowel syndrome, allergies
Restlessness, nervousness, lack of concentration
Depression, burn out
In particular, the approaching pre-Christmas period is predestined for a high level of stress. Therefore it is better to shift down a gear and enjoy the contemplative Advent season; Because that's what December is for.
Drinking enough is necessary all year round, since the body becomes dehydrated without water and many processes cannot run properly; However, there are times of the year when you should increase your fluid intake: winter and summer. While a higher fluid requirement in summer is obvious due to sweating, it's not quite as logical in winter. In winter, the air is drier, which is why the body needs more water to moisten the mucous membranes. Moist mucous membranes are important insofar as they only limit the proliferation of viruses and bacteria on the skin's surface when they are moistened.
Depending on body size, 1.5-2 liters of water or unsweetened (herbal) tea should be drunk daily throughout the day. Sugary drinks, smoothies, juices or coffee do not count. Alcohol should be avoided - even if the temptation at the Christmas market is great. This weakens the immune system and makes you more susceptible to infections because those receptors that mobilize the body's defenses are blocked. Alcohol also increases the excretion of vitamin C, which is particularly important in winter (see next point).
Anyone who sweats a lot - athletes or people with a cold/illness - should drink more than two liters a day to bring the fluid balance back into balance.
5. Immune-boosting diet
Vitamins & trace elements
The most important vitamin for the immune system in winter is vitamin D , because the sun's rays in winter in central and northern Europe are not sufficient to meet daily needs. Therefore, it must be ingested through the diet.
Vitamin D is mainly found in animal foods: eggs, fatty fish such as herring and salmon, and dairy products such as cheese and butter. Mushrooms have small amounts.
If it is not possible to meet the requirements through nutrition, it must be supplemented.
Vitamins C and A are also important. Vitamin C is mainly found in red peppers (100 g cover the daily requirement), black currants and all types of cabbage such as Brussels sprouts, kale or broccoli. Citrus fruits, parsley or chili are also rich in vitamin C. Try our autumn bowl . This is very rich in vitamin C. If you sprinkle them with some parsley, you definitely don't have to worry about an adequate vitamin C supply for the rest of the day.
Vitamin A is found in high amounts only in pork and beef liver; small amounts are found in butter, eggs and fish. However, vegetarians and vegans have no reason to worry: numerous plant-based foods contain ß-carotene , which is converted into vitamin A in the body, e.g. carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes (all orange/red) , spinach, kale, green beans or broccoli. If you are looking for a vitamin A and iron bomb, you are on the safe side with our recipe Sweet Potato Toasties with Lentils à la Provence .
When it comes to minerals and trace elements, it is important to ensure a sufficient supply of iron, zinc and selenium.
Iron is mainly found in meat and fish, but is also found in plant foods such as whole grains, spinach, legumes or salsify. For example, one glass each of our organic ready meals Lentils à la Provence , Mountain Lentil Stew or the African Bowl cover a man's entire daily iron requirement.
Zinc is also mainly found in animal foods (meat, eggs, milk, cheese) and less in plant foods (whole grains, legumes, spirulina, sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, yeast flakes). Since our Löwenanteil dishes consist mainly of legumes, women can still cover their entire daily zinc requirement with a glass of chickpea curry , mountain lentil stew or the African Bowl ; in men it is 72%, 72% and 93% per glass.
Last but not least, good sources of selenium are meat, fish, Brazil nuts and coconuts, soy and white beans, the latter in Italian bean stew , for example.
If you want to know more about the right diet in winter, you can read the first article in the "Fit through the winter" series . In it we provide you with in-depth information so that you can get through the winter fit with a strong immune system.
Fiber & Probiotics
Dietary fiber is important because most of the immune system takes place in the gut. The prerequisite for this is a well-developed intestinal flora with a large number of microorganisms, which can only be achieved by consuming fiber and probiotic foods several times a day.
Dietary fiber is mainly found in whole grains (especially bran), vegetables (especially Jerusalem artichoke, all types of cabbage, potatoes), fruit (especially passion fruit, berries and avocados) and dried fruits, nuts (especially almonds), seeds (linseed and chia seeds) and legumes contain. Each of the Löwenanteil of organic ready meals covers at least 55% of the daily fiber requirement; a glass of chickpea curry even 100%.
Probiotics are mainly found in fresh sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt and kefir or chicory and artichokes.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Last but not least, omega-3 fatty acids are indispensable in the optimal winter diet. Due to their anti-inflammatory properties, they strengthen the immune system. Daily needs can be covered with oils such as flaxseed, camelina, hemp or walnut oil, flaxseed and chia seeds, nuts, soya, avocado or fish such as haddock, tuna, tagliatelle, trout, salmon or sardines. Our snack balls are suitable for a small omega-3 booster in between, as they are made from almonds or walnuts .
6. Environmental toxins
Environmental toxins should be avoided, since a high level of fine dust pollution weakens the immune system. Environmental toxins include not only CO2 emissions, but also heavy metals, pesticides, plastic and aluminum, long stays near open fires/candles and, last but not least, smoking.
Environmental toxins are mainly contained in cosmetic products (e.g. volatile organic compounds or plastic) or food/food. They get into the products either via the packaging or via fertilisers/soil, eg arsenic in rice, glyphosate in vegetables. Fish often contain mercury or cadmium, which they ingest from polluted waters.
You can consume our organic ready meals without hesitation, as the ingredients are all certified organic and contain no harmful substances.
Smoking is not only harmful because the ingredients in cigarettes are carcinogenic and attack organs, but also promote inflammatory processes and dry out mucous membranes. Dry mucous membranes are an ideal breeding ground for viruses and bacteria, which is why smoking increases the risk of infection.
This results in 3 tips:
Favor organic food and cosmetics
Do not smoke
Ventilate regularly, especially when/after lighting candles
The last tip - airing - should be done regularly in winter anyway. In closed rooms, many pathogens accumulate in the air, the number of which only decreases with air exchange. At least five times a day, the room should be aired for five minutes – 5x5. Correspondingly longer in warmer months and with larger numbers of people.
Fit through the winter: in summary...
... once again collected all the tips:
Get enough sleep: at least six hours a night
Do enough exercise and sport
Drink enough, avoid alcohol
Eat a balanced diet rich in vitamins: lots of vitamins A, C, D, zinc, selenium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids and fibre
Avoid environmental toxins: no smoking, organic food instead of conventional
Ventilate: Ventilate at least five times a day for five minutes.
This article was written by our author Lisa. Her greatest passions are nutrition/health, cooking and sports.