Keep Walking With Old Man Winter on a Local Trail

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footsteps on a snowy pathAs we get further into the late winter season, cold and flu season continues to build, the weather changes more and more, and nasty bugs tend to catch up with our busy lives forcing us to slow down. Although nearly all of us may catch the cold or flu here and there, this winter season appears to be a little worse than average. We can take many steps to help increase our immunity to avoid or even shorten illnesses. Use these tips daily, or even when you feel something coming on, to avoid illnesses during the cold and flu season, which lasts into Spring. 

Eat for Wellness
This is one of the most important ways to support our immunity, year-round and against both acute illness and chronic disease. Following a healthy diet including a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, proteins low in saturated fat, and healthy fats like nuts and seeds can help boost the health of your whole body. An abundance of vitamins and minerals commonly found in these foods are excellent for helping to reduce infections and avoid illnesses.

Manage Stress
Stress management is very important to managing illness. Although some levels of stress are OK, long-term stress can cause health issues. We know high levels of stress can become a precursor for various chronic diseases. When our body is stressed, we emit different chemicals than when we are in a relaxed state. If we become constantly stressed out, our immune system can weaken making us susceptible to the different bugs floating around during the season change. To manage stress, try going for a quiet walk or meditation. It’s also important to have a strong network of social support, so take some time to be around those you love when you’re feeling stressed out.

Get Plenty of Sleep
We need 6-8 hours of sleep to help our body recuperate from our busy schedules. Our immune systems function much better when we are well rested, so try to ensure you’re getting adequate amounts of sleep and not staying up too late wrapping those holiday presents. Some tips to help you sleep better include going to bed and waking up at the same time ever day; practicing mediation or breathing exercises before bed; cutting off computers and cell phones and avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.

Exercise for Immunity
It’s important to exercise regularly to help release some of the stress we carry around throughout the day. Exercising can not only help improve your mood, but it also can enhance your body cells to recognize cells infected with a virus and try to eliminate them. If you are already ill, wait until recover to exercise. This can just be 30 minutes of walking, weight lifting, biking, or playing a sport on a daily basis. Exercising in the cold boosts the immune system as well, unless you are already ill. Wearing the proper clothing like warm foot wear; jackets; toboggans and mittens are a necessity. Materials need to be made of wool or fleece and those that are wind and water resistant. Also, please remember to wear light colors so cars can see you in evening if outside after dark. Wear foot traction if on snow and ice, along with walking poles to help with stability. One of the most important tips to remember in winter, “keep moving, balance your life or else old man winter will catch you.”

— Written By Sydney Johnson and last updated by Patricia Burch of Sampson County Extension and Robert J. Hawk of Jackson and Swain County Extension.