While you might try to protect your immunity against the cold that’s going around in the home or office, it’s less common to have such protection during travel, which can be even more hazardous to your immune system.
You are changing your environment, which means you are adjusting your daily healthy routines and eating habits, while in physical contact with far more objects that many others have touched.
Even though traveling during the upcoming cold and flu season might make getting sick feel inevitable, falling ill have to be your fate.
By initiating a few best practices and precautions, you might be able to dodge illness.
10 Tips to Boost Your Immunity and Avoid Getting Sick
1. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Germs have to find a way inside before they can start wreaking havoc on the body. We touch such openings on our faces many times per day, so what we do with our hands significantly impacts our immunity.
One option is to assign one hand for doing everyday tasks, like turning door jobs, giving high fives, pushing elevator buttons, or putting change in the parking meter. Leave the other for the personal side of things, like the unconscious nose scratch, eye rub, or midday snack. By being mindful of which hands are doing what, you lessen your chance of picking up germs between hand washings.
2. Practice good hand washing hygiene.
Hand washing after touching contaminated surfaces may be the most powerful immunity booster that you can easily incorporate. Common touch points while traveling include:
- Bins at TSA (people’s shoes go in there…)
- Armrests while waiting in the terminal
- The hand rail on a moving sidewalk
- Anything on the airplane seat including tray table, buttons, touch screen
- Gas station pumps, credit card touch screens and buttons
Using hand sanitizer is not a substitute for washing your hands; hand sanitizer has been shown to be less effective than soap and water. However, carrying sanitizer can be useful when in situations where hand washing is not an option.
3. Clean your devices regularly.
Your phone, laptop, tablet, cameras, gaming consoles, and any other electronic devices you use regularly will come in contact with other contaminated surfaces such as TSA bins.Get in the habit of cleaning your device – front and back – with an alcohol-based wipe. At the very least,try to wash your hands after using your phone, especially if you’re going to eat.
4. Eat fresh, whole foods.
It’s highly recommended to get your micronutrients from eating whole, fresh foods, because of the greater nutritional value, fiber, and phytochemicals, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Micronutrient-dense foods support your immune system, because they contain important vitamins and minerals, such as:
- Vitamin D, which controls the expression of over 1,000 genes in the body, and is linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and immune system problems. Foods that have this fat-soluble vitamin include eggs, fatty fish such as sockeye salmon, mackerel, and sardines, and fortified dairy, such as milk and yogurt.
- Vitamin B9 (folate/folic acid), an essential vitamin in the production of many cells, including red and white blood cells. Foods high in folate include beans, lentils, spinach, asparagus, lettuce, and avocado.
- Vitamin A is a nutrient important to vision, growth, cell division, reproduction and immunity. It can be found in foods like spinach, carrots, and cantaloupe.
- Vitamin C, which is needed by the body to form collagen in bones, cartilage, muscle, and blood vessels. Foods that have the highest amount of vitamin C are bell peppers, guavas, dark and leafy green vegetables, kiwi, and broccoli, to name a few.
- Magnesium, which plays an important role in mitochondrial function. Involved in many biochemical reactions in the body, helping maintain normal heart rhythm, immune system, and muscle function. Low magnesium levels are linked with a variety of conditions, including hypertension, heart disease, osteoporosis, and poorly controlled diabetes. Foods that contain magnesium are dark, leafy greens like spinach and swiss chard, nuts and seeds, mackerel, and lima beans.
- Zinc, which has antioxidant properties and plays an essential role in the immune system. It also helps regulate appetite, stress level, and sense of taste and smell. Foods high in zinc include beef and lamb, liver, spinach, pumpkin and squash seeds, pork, and chicken.
Eating fiber – found in fruits and vegetables like the ones listed above – keeps digestion moving. Munch to manage from the inside out.
5. Skip the sugar and processed foods/drinks found in terminal kiosis and roadside stores.
It’s tempting to opt for convenience by grabbing crackers, muffins, or other packaged products you can eat on the go. Unfortunately, these items have been known to contain high amounts of processed sugar.
Sugar, most popularly known to lead to insulin resistance, weight gain in the body, and contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, also results in inflammation. WellnessFX practitioners Karen Graham and Dr. Ross Pelton both warn that a moderate dose of sugar suppresses the immune system for 5 to 6 hours, lowering the body’s ability to fight infection.
6. Prioritize sleep.
Make a concerted effort to use rest as a primary defense tactic against colds.
Power down pre-bedtime by limiting your phone/laptop/TV/social media use, to prepare your body for sleep. Factor sleep into your schedule and don’t be afraid to bow out of activities just a little earlier to get much-needed slumber.
Tired all the time or suffering from poor quality sleep? Check out 4 reasons that could explain why.
7. Limit alcohol intake
There are a few reasons limiting alcohol intake can help your immune system.
- The average holiday cocktail with juices and mixers is high in sugar. We know from above (Tip 5) that sugar suppresses the immune system 5-6 hours.
- Alcohol lacks the micronutrients that make your immune system strong and can have adverse immune-related health effects. Susceptibility to pneumonia is one of them among the list.
- Alcohol disrupts sleep. Negatively impacting the quality of your sleep will prevent much needed rest your body needs to defend against colds.
- Alcohol is dehydrating. Don’t prevent your body from getting the fluids it needs for healthy organ function and digestion.
8. Manage your stress.
Cortisol is commonly referred to as the “stress hormone.”
While a little spike of cortisol is good – and natural – in response to short-term stressors, it starts to become a problem when the body starts making too much, too often, including a lower immune response.
Getting adequate sleep and avoid caffeinated products can help lower cortisol levels. You can work to further decrease any holiday stressors, and increase relaxation, with practices such as meditation in the morning, when cortisol levels are highest.Don’t underestimate the power of a moment alone. Taking 10 minutes to yourself can help hit the “reset” on all the troubles of the day. Check out 6 Ways Busy People Who Have No Time Can Unwind & Relax.
9. Walk or fit in exercise where you can.
WellnessFX Medical Director, Dr. Khaleghi, details in his book The Everything Guide to Boosting Your Immunity that “the single most effective thing you can do for your immune system is engage in various types of regular exercise. This stimulates expression of various immune factors and can substantially decrease your risk of all types of infections.”
Every little bit helps, whether it’s an outdoor hike or taking the stairs instead of the escalator.
Short on time? In some ways, short, intense workouts can be more beneficial than longer ones. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), for example, is a strategy of alternating high-intensity with low-intensity. A 10 to 20-minute workout can feel as taxing as a whole hour – and as beneficial, too. The short, intense workouts of HIIT provide improved athletic capacity and condition, improved glucose metabolism, and improved fat burning.
10. Consider supplementing probiotics
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that exist naturally in your gut. Probiotics are the live bacteria and yeasts aka “the good” microorganisms.
Dr. Khaleghi also mentions in his book that “the supplement gaining the most popularity for increasing your immune defense is probiotics, which is increasingly supported in the literature and people’s experiences. These bacteria stimulate the lymphoid (immune tissue) in your gut, where actually a majority of this immune tissue resides in your body.” For more on gut health, check out 4 Steps to a Healthier Gut, and Why It’s So Important.
Bonus Tip: Drink water.
“Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water (you want very light colored urine),” says WellnessFX Practitioner, Lori Brizee MS, RD, LD. Water consumption is an important part of overall health – your body depends on it. It’s instrumental in healthy organ function, naturally improves digestion to help break down foods, and softens stools, which helps prevent constipation. You do not want to be constipated while traveling (or any other time, for that matter).
Tip: Invest in a reusable water bottle (BPA-free plastic or glass). You can fill up after you get through security, and then you can take it with you wherever you go – at coffee shops, restaurants, when at your relatives’ house.
It may take a moment to get into the habit, but what you’re doing is creating the opportunity to drink more water. If you don’t create it, it doesn’t exist. Read here for more tips and tricks to help you drink more water.
How WellnessFX Can Help
Regular blood screening is crucial for understanding your hormones, tracking progress, and measuring your associated risk, to hopefully stop a problem before it becomes a problem. Some markers of immunity you can track include your:
- White blood cell count
- hs-CRP, a marker of inflammation (which impairs the immune system)
- Vitamin D, a core regulator of the immune system
- Micronutrients, such as Folate, Magnesium, and B12.
Once you have the information, you can make educated, informed choices that fit your body’s specific and unique needs, from nutrition and lifestyle changes to hormone and risk monitoring.
The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.