How to Prioritise Your Immune System Health During Winter
Time to read 9 min
Time to read 9 min
From the rapid temperature drop to the lack of time spent soaking up that much-loved Vitamin D, it’s fair to say that we all experience low energy levels and the never-ending battle to ward off the many sicknesses that resurface during the colder months.
If you find yourself struggling to prioritise your immune system health during the colder months, here is our simple guide to thriving in winter, no matter the temperature.
It’s no secret that sunlight is one of our body’s best buddies, particularly when it comes to feeling and functioning optimally. With the right exposure, sunlight helps to energise you and facilitate normal bodily functions. Yet, not enough exposure will leave you feeling lethargic, sluggish, and a little uninspired.
Wondering why exactly? When sunlight hits your skin, the UVB rays react with the cholesterol in your skin cells to provide the necessary energy for Vitamin D synthesis to take place. Simply put, the sun helps your body produce Vitamin D.
This vitamin plays an essential role in various bodily and cellular functions, but most significant is its role in helping your gut absorb calcium and phosphorus — two minerals critical for bone health and strength. However, it also plays a vital role in helping your immune system fight off bacteria and viruses, making it a winter non-negotiable.
Our Tip: Focus on getting adequate sun exposure around noon a few times per week. While you may think midday is the worst time of day to be out in the sun, many studies have proven this theory wrong. In fact, midday is when the sun is at its highest point, and your body is suggested to produce vitamin D most effectively.
However, limiting your exposure is important, ensuring you’re spending the right amount of time outside according to your skin type. For example, those with fairer skin require much less sun exposure to produce adequate Vitamin D (i.e., approx. 15-30 minutes, although dependent on the individual), while those with darker skin tone may require slightly longer due to the increased melanin.
P.s. — Don’t forget to keep your skin thoroughly hydrated. Despite the cold weather in winter, your skin still requires daily nourishment to keep it moisturised and supple. We recommend Dr Tanya’s Luxe Recovery Gel for the ultimate hydration boost, day and night. Our winter tip is to apply our Luxe Recovery Gel in the morning to protect your skin barrier all day from the cold, dry weather to lock in moisture and all the goodness from the rest of your AM skincare ritual (i.e., your serums).
While you might have assumed we’d suggest the opposite, given winter is the time to hibernate and spend a little longer in bed… There’s a difference between the two. While we recommend not spending excessive time cooped up under the blankets, we suggest prioritising a quality nighttime routine to ensure you’re sleeping optimally.
Simply put, sleep deprivation can have an extremely negative impact on your immune system. When you sleep, your immune system releases cytokines, which are proteins that help promote sleep, among many other important functions. When infection or inflammation arises in the body, specific cytokines are required in higher volumes to help your body recover. However, inadequate sleep can reduce the production of these crucial cytokines. The real clincher? Necessary virus-fighting antibodies and cells decrease during times of sleep deprivation.
What does all of this mean? Without adequate sleep, you’re more susceptible to getting sick and are more likely to recover slower.
Our Tip: Generally, most adults should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night to help support their immune system. Teenagers and adolescents should aim for 9-10 hours, while more mature people may require less sleep to see the same benefits. Not sure where to start with improving your sleep quality? You’ll find plenty of valuable tips in our 5 Rituals to Improve Your Wind-Down Routine article!
It should come as no surprise that your diet is critical to maintaining optimal immune health. You may have heard the old saying, “All disease starts in the gut,” meaning what we eat and absorb is vital in progressing or hindering our health and immune system.
Here’s why: Your body’s immune response requires various types of micronutrients to work effectively at all stages. If your diet lacks one or more nutrients, it can interfere with the production and response of immune cells and antibodies — essential for fighting infection and viruses.
For example, certain nutrients are particularly significant in supporting immune function, including Vitamin C, Selenium, Vitamin D, and Zinc. Let’s take a closer look at their benefits, where you can source them through your diet, and what signs you should look out for that indicate you may be lacking:
Signs of deficiency:
Fun facts about these key ingredients:
Don’t forget that winter is the perfect opportunity to switch out your cold summer foods for immune-boosting warm meals, including a nourishing chicken soup or a dish rich in spices, including turmeric, ginger, garlic, clove, and cinnamon.
[Read full article: 7 Traditional Spices to Boost Your Immunity This Winter]
Our Tip: Maintaining the functionality of your immune system through food goes beyond just eating the right foods. It also requires you to focus on variety.
Your gut thrives when it receives various nutrients, so be sure to eat a well-balanced diet rich in vitamins and colours. Incorporate more vegetables and fruits, and keep processed foods to a minimum, which disrupt healthy intestinal microorganisms and cause chronic gut inflammation.
Stress is deeply engrained in our daily lives. From stressing about a looming work deadline to worrying about how you’ll pay next month’s bills, many aspects of our lives are, unfortunately, driven by stress. While this may feel somewhat normal in today’s society, it may have a more detrimental impact on your immune system than you realise.
[Read full article: 5 Ways to Reduce Stress — And Why Your Skin Depends On It]
Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between stress and the immune system:
Our Tip: While removing stress from our lives entirely is unavoidable and counterintuitive, knowing what signs to look out for and how to keep your stress levels healthy is essential. For some, increased stress may look like being constantly sleepy, irritable, and experiencing an increased heart rate and tense muscles; for others, it may include acne breakouts, ongoing headaches, and digestive issues. Keep an eye on your body and be mindful of any changes you can’t explain.
When trying to lower stress levels, consider what foods you’re consuming (i.e., sugar increases inflammation), how actively you’re moving your body, if you’re doing enough activities and hobbies that fill your cup, and how you’re processing complex emotions. We recommend implementing a sustainable self-care ritual that allows you to take back time for yourself. Love the sound of this but aren’t sure where to start? Check out Dr Tanya’s 5 Tips to Prioritise Self-Care for practical Doctor-approved tips and ticks!
Yep, we saved our favourite point for last. It’s time to start prioritising your well-being and happiness as much as you do your daily errands, work task list, and those around you.
We all know that we feel happiest when we’re pouring back into our own cup and engaging in activities we love. Yet, there’s much more to this than simply making us feel good. Did you know that happiness can also make you healthier? Let’s take a closer look at the research:
Yet, it’s important to note that the direct link between happiness and immune health isn’t yet conclusive. On the one hand, some researchers believe that happiness directly influences the HPA axis, which helps to regulate your immune system, hormones, stress levels, and digestion. In contrast, other scientists believe it’s simply the case that happier people tend to make healthier lifestyle choices that improve immunity (i.e., diet, exercise, and lower stress levels). Whatever the reason, we know that happiness positively impacts health!
Our tip: Add a new hobby or activity to your priority list. When choosing the right hobby, consider which activities drain your energy and leave you feeling flat and which options make you feel recharged, reinvigorated and inspired. The latter is the right option for you.
Always remember, there is no wrong or right answer to this — it could be as simple as dancing in your living room for 15 minutes every morning, joining a local pottery class, carving out time to read a book, or picking up a hobby that challenges and pushes you. Whatever it is, just make sure it fills your cup!