1. Eat well
Nutrition is a key contributor to a healthy immune system, needed to keep your body in balance and help combat infection, according to the British Journal of Nutrition. The best way to increase immunity is to make sure your diet is full of fresh fruit, vegetables and other nutrient-dense foods.
“An 80g serving of cherries, for example, is packed with vitamin C, as well as natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, which help fight infection,” says state-registered dietitian, Helen Bond. “Seafood is full of protein needed to make infection-fighting white blood cells to help crowd out viruses. Plus, zinc, which may help shorten the duration of colds, garlic, chicken soup, live yoghurt and mushrooms are all good, too,” adds Helen. “Put broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and other members of the cruciferous family on the menu too.” To drink? Wine and grape juice to help maintain immune function, according to research.
2. Get moving
Tempting though it is, don’t sink into couch potato mode. Get outside and make the most of the better weather. “According to recent UK study, regular moderate exercise can enhance the efficiency of natural killer cells that attack viruses, so reducing the risk of catching colds and flu”, says Dean Hodgkin, Fitness Expert, Ragdale Hall and Energie Fitness. Just don’t overdo it - “prolonged intense exercise can actually damage natural killer cells’ activity”, he adds.
Regular exercise has also been found to increase the range of bacteria in the gut, which can help the immune system work more efficiently. “Aim for 30 minutes, five days a week,” says Dean. “If this is too much all in one go, three bouts of 10 minutes are just as beneficial.” Try a mix of cardiovascular exercise (walking, jogging cycling), strength training (free or fixed weights, Body Pump and Pilates), and flexibility (yoga, tai chi, Body Balance).
3. Take it easy
When you are stressed and run down, you are twice as likely to develop symptoms when exposed to a common cold virus, says GP and medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer. This is thought to be a result partly of high levels of stress hormones. Feeling overwhelmed? Try our 20 easy ways to banish stress.
4. Cover up
“The virus particles of both the common cold and the flu are spread from person to person; they may then enter a nearby person's body through the eyes, nose or mouth,” says GP Dr Roger Henderson.
In addition to avoiding people with a cold or the flu, it's important for us all to wash our hands regularly throughout the day and to avoid touching your face after touching surfaces.
5. Herbal help
“Certain vitamins and minerals play a key role in a strong immune system – especially vitamins A, B12, B6, C and D, and minerals copper, folate, iron, selenium and zinc,” says Dr Sarah Brewer. Studies show that older people who take a daily multivitamin have better immune function, with a better response to flu jabs and significantly fewer colds and respiratory infections, compared with those not taking multivitamin supplements.
Echinacea is a traditional herbal remedy that increases the number and activity of white blood cells which are the cells that are responsible for attacking infections. Data from 14 studies suggests that echinacea decreases the odds of developing a cold by up to half. If symptoms of a cold, bronchitis or sinusitis do develop, pelargonium extracts – another traditional herbal remedy - can help alleviate symptoms.