Now that much of the northern hemisphere has descended into the icy grip of another winter, there’s a certain inevitability that you’ll be struck down at some point with a severe cold, maybe a dose of flu, or just plain old chronic winter lethargy.

However there are some easy steps you can take to boost your body’s immune system, and give yourself a fighting chance to avoid getting sick in winter.

Avoid People

  • As alarmingly isolationist as this sounds, there’s no denying that you’ll only get sick if you come into contact with someone carrying a virus that you’re susceptible to.
  • Most likely sources of infection will be your colleagues at work, or the random people that you’re pressed up against on public transport.
  • Realistically you still need to work, but the more you can do to limit your exposure to infection the better.
  • Avoid touching stuff — wear gloves.
  • Regularly disinfect your hands with some hand gel.
  • Don’t touch your face.

Keep your diet sharp

  • As the cold weather drags on, you’re naturally drawn to comfort food — you’ll be tempted to over-load your body with processed carbs, and drink excessive amounts of alcohol (“Well, it is Christmas…”).
  • By letting your diet slip, your body’s natural defences will be compromised — if you’re feeling “a little run down…” this means that your body is less equipped to resist the multitude of viruses that you’re coming into contact with each day.
  • You read a lot about living a “primal” lifestyle (essentially, respecting human evolution and eating like our ancestors) and if you follow that logic through you could argue that in colder weather you should increase your intake of protein (lean meat/fish) and carbohydrates (fibrous fruit and vegetables) and drink more water (as the body dehydrates quicker in lower temperatures).
  • In reality, our housing, heating and transport means that we’re less exposed to the elements than our primal ancestors, so there isn’t really any excuse for starting the day with a sausage sandwich or taking an extra serving of potatoes with your Sunday roast.
  • The principles of a balanced diet remain sound regardless of the weather. Good quality meat and vegetables and plenty of water are the foundation.
  • Limit your intake of alcohol (stick with a glass or two of red wine if possible) and limit your intake of processed carbohydrates such as bread or pasta.

Keep Exercising

  • Cold weather is a great reason to head to the gym.
  • It may be tempting to just rug up, bunker down, and hide your expanding love-handles under some extra layers, but if you’re not exercising then your body will again be more susceptible to infection.
  • Remember, it’s warm in the gym. Spend a bit longer in the sauna.
  • You may need to adapt your health and fitness regime, but keeping things sharp during the colder months will be essential to ensure that you are always beach-body ready.

Supplements

  • There’s no exact science as to which supplements you should take to “avoid getting sick”, but the odds are that your diet isn’t going to be precise enough to give you all the various nutrients in the right measures to fully equip your body’s defences.
  • You’re probably already taking a multi-vitamin, fish oils, and a Vitamin C or E. These are all essential and should absolutely be maintained.
  • Echinacea was a bit of a fad a few years ago, but worth incorporating into your diet on a rotation (ie. one week on, two weeks off).

Vitamin D3

  • With the winter weather, you’re not going to be getting enough sunlight (the natural source of D3) and your body will thank you for a bit of extra help in this regard.
  • The decrease in sunlight during winter reduces the brain’s production of the neurotransmitter serotonin (a chemical messenger), which is responsible for our mood, emotions, sleep, anxiety and appetite.
  • Numerous studies have shown that supplementing with vitamin D3 can help improve your immune system and increase bone density.

Learn from the elite athletes

  • The advantage of being an elite athlete is that you’re not constrained by the seasons in the way that the rest of us are. If you’re a sprinter and the wintry conditions are preventing you from training on your usual track, you can switch to an indoor facility or shift your location to somewhere warmer. If you’re an alpine skier you have the advantage of being able to follow-the snow around the globe.
  • The real question is what can we learn from the training of elite athletes? Assuming that you’re stuck in the northern hemisphere for the winter, how do you avoid sinking into a psychosomatic “winter lethargy”, embracing comfort food, and hiding under chunky knits until the sun re-appears?
  • The key lesson is to adapt. Most hotels will have a gym (or be affiliated with something local) — when you’re travelling make sure you pack a pair of trainers in case adverse weather leaves you stranded for a couple days. Keep a set of dumbbells at home and ask someone at your gym to design a “back-up” programme for you that allows you to maintain strength and conditioning even if you have to bunker down as the world ices over.

What indoor sports can you switch to?

  • Be realistic. Look for opportunities to take the activities you enjoy and adapt to the slightly more challenging conditions of the colder months.
  • Too cold for tennis? Give racquetball a try.
  • Can’t get to the golf course? The driving range will be more accessible.
  • Looking to increase your cardio-fitness ahead of a skiing holiday? Track down your nearest indoor slope and sharpen your parallel turns.
  • Frustrated at not being able to run your normal quota of miles on the weekend? Grab a pair of goggles and switch your focus to swimming.

Don’t let winter be an excuse. Stay focused, stay sharp.