Tips to help avoid getting sick as cold and flu season approaches

Are you getting enough vitamin D? It might help keep you from getting sick. Combine the upcoming cold and flu season with the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s never been more important to have a strong immune system.

“Vitamin D is one of the things we really want to make sure we get enough of, especially now,” assistant professor of neuroscience Dr. Nicole M. Avena said. “It’s really one of the critical nutrients that helps to support and boost our immunity.”

Avena, who has a doctorate in neuroscience and psychology, teaches at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and is a visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University.

“A lot of people are deficient in vitamin D and don’t even realize it,” she said.

And in winter months, people get less vitamin D naturally from the sun. Signs of vitamin D deficiency include lethargy — feeling tired.

“Also, when you have low vitamin D, it puts you at risk for having issues related to calcium absorption,” which puts you more at risk for broken bones, or improper healing of fractures, Avena said.

To help ensure you’re getting all the vitamins and micronutrients you need to stay healthy, Avena recommends eating a wide variety of different fruits, vegetables and proteins.

“If we’re deficient in one or more micronutrients, then our body has to work harder to make up for that deficiency,” Avena said. “We have a really effective immune system that can work really, really well if our body doesn’t have to be devoting its resources to other aspects of our health.”

If you can’t get the nutrition you need from food alone and your doctor OKs supplements, there are lots of options to swallowing potentially big pills. There are gummies, liquids and sublingual options that dissolve under your tongue.

Your lifestyle also can influence whether your immune system is strong.

Are you getting enough rest? One bad night isn’t such a big problem, but Avena said sleep deficits over time can compromise your immune system.

“We need to be getting the appropriate amount of sleep every night so our body can be rested and it can recharge,” Avena said.

Also, chill out. “When we are stressed and anxious, our body has to work harder to produce cortisol to fight these stressors internally and that leaves fewer resources available to support our immune health,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exercise improves sleep and reduces anxiety.

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