They are on the rise again—sick leave. The flu-like infection, the common cold, currently tops the list of virus-related absences, followed by coronavirus. And some cases of the real flu, influenza, have already been recorded. How do I stay healthy now? You can get preventive vaccinations against viral diseases such as COVID-19, influenza and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Good hygiene also helps. And especially important: taking care of the body’s defences.
What the body can do
The immune system doesn’t just work hard during the virus season. We are constantly surrounded by an army of potentially dangerous everyday influences, including fungi, environmental toxins, air pollution and, of course, germs and pathogens. These attackers must be kept in check, and our organisms must be protected. Many different defence mechanisms are responsible for this, which comprise the immune system. This tightly woven network holds back the majority of harmful attacks. Under certain circumstances, however, it cannot do so, and pathogens can slip through our immune barriers and trigger illnesses. One of the main reasons why the immune system becomes permeable is an unbalanced lifestyle. Among other things, it can weaken the gut—the seat of the immune system with around 80 percent defence cells—and the mucous membranes, the first barrier against pathogens.
Use these lifestyle suggestions to offset this!
“Common infectious diseases such as colds, inflammation of the throat or tonsillitis,” says Dr. Rampp, “occur much less frequently in athletes than in those who are completely untrained. When we exercise, this acute stress triggers significant changes in the blood count. The body releases hormones such as adrenaline, which in turn activates the immune system. But various cells also multiply after just a few seconds and become significantly more active, such as the natural killer cells, which play an important role in defending against tumor cells and virus-infected cells.”
However, beware of the “open window effect”: “In the phase following very intensive sporting activity, the body is more susceptible to infections and pathogens,” says the expert. This causes a transient immunological deficit, which is offset by adequate sleep and regeneration. Rampp’s tip: The optimum effect for running, for example, is to train between 15 and 25 kilometres per week, spread over three to four training sessions. This measure can also be transferred to other endurance sports.
As mentioned, there is a close connection between the gut (its microbiome/microbiota) and the immune system. The diversity of the intestinal flora, which in turn is influenced by diet, plays an important role. In the search for the best diet, the Mediterranean diet (Mediterranean whole diet) and the Planetary Health Diet (regional, seasonal and sustainable) have proven themselves, according to the doctor. Both diets are based on fresh, plant-based, high-fiber foods. Plant-based foods contain vital secondary plant substances such as carotenoids (note: in kale, pumpkin, carrots) and flavonoids (note: in apples, pears, onions). According to Rampp, foods containing ellagic acid, such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and walnuts, are also particularly noteworthy. “Ellagic acid is medically important for the prevention of cancer and the treatment of viral and bacterial infections,” says the doctor. Power foods are also turmeric and ginger (see also recipe tip). Another critical role of the immune system is not only what you eat but also when you eat it. The doctor recommends regular breaks from eating, i.e. fasting, which “is a fresh cell cure for the immune system.”
Sleep, breathing, mindfulness, laughter, positive thinking, experiencing nature and forest bathing are the most essential pillars of regeneration for the author. This is not only important at the cellular level but also promotes mental well-being, which also contributes to a vital organism. The gut, millions of nerve cells, and the brain constantly communicate. Therefore, how we think and feel affects our organic state of health. Positive thinking, for example, has a direct influence on the immune system. While emotional complaints weaken the immune system, an optimistic attitude toward life can boost the body’s defences and help prevent illness. The mental well-being associated with confidence activates the metabolism, happiness hormones in the blood increase and stress hormones are reduced. A good mood and a positive attitude can be learned and encouraged. Walks in nature are helpful as they lower stress hormone levels and blood pressure and increase self-esteem. The expert also sees a gratitude diary as a valuable strategy to strengthen yourself. If that doesn’t suit you, you can use an important tool that we always have with us: our breath. Breathe in deeply, breathe out and keep your immune system sharp!
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