s(Disclaimer: this is a long post. They won't all be like this, so don't give up on me yet just because I got so wordy here. It's just big topic with a lot of pieces to the puzzle.)
Some years ago I was doing my personal chef thing in a shared kitchen I was working out of and one of the other tenants asked what I did with my business when I got sick. I had to think for a bit to try to remember how many years ago I had actually had the flue, or even a cold. There was that one time a few years prior when I had a 24 hour bug, but it wasn't on a cook day, so I had to admit I couldn't remember actually missing a day due to illness.
That was a few years ago when that happened, and few before that (couldn't recall exactly) when I actually got sick, so now that whole flue thing is fading into truly distant memory. What I do recall is when getting sick was some kind of annual ritual: you weren't sure when or with what it would happen, but you were pretty sure at some point you would be out of the game for awhile with some kind of bug. I assume that will happen again, of course, but I no longer consider it inevitable like I used to, and I really don't think it needs to be for any of us.
Maybe this will be the year I get to lay around feeling sorry for myself again. There are days that actually sounds somewhat appealing, to be honest. Maybe all those bugs have just been conspiring against me, biding their time until they band together to attack en masse and give me what for. Or maybe whatever it is that's giving my immune system the tools it needs to keep bugs from becoming symptomatic will continue to operate like it has been.
So what is it that causes me to miss out on all the flue fun? I know that all the ways in which I'm just a little abnormal are still being catalogued and analyzed for posterity, but I'm pretty sure my basic biological system is put together the same as the normal people's. I suppose it's hard to say with certainty exactly what health metrics accomplish what in a system as complicated as ours, so rather than attempting some kind of prescription and fool-proof system (although pretending I had one and writing a book looks like a great gig) I guess I can just describe how I roll with this stuff and let you ponder what might be useful.
Nutrition. Of course, I have to start there or my publisher will wonder about me. Or S/he would if I had one. I analyzed how I usually start the day last week to see how much of the daily requirements of the most basic winter immune vitamins it gives me (C, etc.) and depending on which program I used, it was between 150 and over 200%. Its really pretty simple: a couple of eggs scrambled with a bunch of vegies and starting with a little olive oil. I try to include something cruciferous (kale, spinach), and as many colors as I can get out of the fridge. In winter I especially go for the mushrooms, plus I love mushrooms. That with some fruit, esp. citrus in winter of course, and maybe some berries (lots of times with a little yogurt for the probiotic thing) and that's about it. I'm thinking of getting back into the supplement thing which I haven't done for a long time, esp. some D3 in winter, but we'll see where that goes. For now my system seems to be pretty functional without the expensive add ons to just real food.
During the day I graze on nuts a lot. I know they've got a ton of benefits for reducing inflammation which is always good for the immune system. One article I read insisted people who eat a handful of nuts daily live longer, and I believe that. Plus I'm a huge fan of roasted, unsalted almonds particularly. There's usually a container of them within reach. I also graze on stuff like carrots etc. as well. It always goes without saying that avoiding refined carbohydrates (think sugar) is always on the menu (not on the menu?) for daily nutrition. Dinner is not the most important meal of the day, so it is what it is. I have three wellness rules for dinner. 1. Eat real food, not too much, mostly vegetables (OK, I cheated and crammed three into one: credit to Michael Pollen for number 1) 2. Eat slow. 3. Eat with people you like to hang out with.
Loving up on my buddy el Sol. The one essential immune boosting vitamin that you don't metabolize from food is Vitamin D, which your skin creates from sunshine. Not as easy to get in the winter, I know, but I do whatever I can. When I remodeled my home I put a south facing second story deck to make sure I can take naps with buddy el Sol whenever I get a chance. It's about wellness, you know: not because I love naps in the sun. Anything else I can do without too many clothes is good. Easy in California, actually. I decided a while back that having a mostly bald dome on top is crucial to my wellness. I know, we've all been trained to believe that the sun is our worst enemy and that we need to cover and cower whenever we see him. As we approach summer, keep an eye out for more of what I have to say in response to that particularly unseemly slander of one of my best buddies.
Speaking of naps, of course getting enough sleep is always crucial to immune function. The whole dark thing in winter is not my favorite part of the season, but it does serve to remind us that we should be getting plenty of Zs during a season when our system needs what they have to offer in fighting disease.
I try to drink plenty of water. That's another one that's easy to backslide on in winter, but its still crucial for flushing whatever toxins manage to make their way into your system. The rule of thumb I've heard is 2/3 of your body weight in ounces every day, so keep the water bottle handy. If your pee isn't nice and clear you should shame yourself.
Except don't shame yourself. Shame is a stress producer, and managing stress is just as critical to immune function in winter as any other time. Avoiding Christmas music in grocery stores this time of year is impossible for me, so I have to work extra hard at making sure I apply the basics: Meditation and other mindfulness stress management practices, letting go of things that really aren't as important as they want us to think they are, wine and cheese (that's our term for the daily time we get together in our home to support each other and de-tox from the day together), pursuing positive life giving relationships in ways that accomplish that: all the stuff. I put together an 8 week program for this sort of thing to detail what I think really works and how to put it into practice. If you're interested just let me know and I'll send it to you.
Exercise. I think the stress thing might be the most important, but if it isn't this certainly has to be. Or maybe the nutrition thing. Or..... Well whatever: best to go holistic with it just to not leave anything out. I'm a runner (if you can call the pace at which I do that running), so I still get out in the winter with my running gloves and beanie (I hate cold ears). My workout is usually outside in the back yard with some basic equipment: dumb-bells, mat, TRX, ball, etc. Where I live that's usually OK, even in the morning when that happens for me, but the things I do can also happen inside: basic HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) exercises that can literally happen in a small room with the 10-20 minutes you have to spare. It all gets mixed up and different stuff happens different days depending on schedule, but the point is to get moving every day, do some resistance stuff, etc. I really think that along with drinking plenty of water, producing enough sweat is key to getting rid of the bad guys. One of the keys, of course, is avoiding the bad guys in the first place, so whatever I do is as far away from gyms as I can. As far as I'm concerned, gyms are second only to hospitals (or maybe elementary schools) for germ exposure. Everyone is different and enjoys different things, but find what works for you. If exercise isn't part of your routine, I hope you enjoy laying around with a fever feeling sorry for yourself and missing work (actually that last part might be OK...)
Speaking of avoiding germs, I do wash my hands a lot during the days because of what I do in the kitchen. Dozens of times a day like I do is surely not necessary, but those kinds of hygiene basics will be important.
Those are some things I give credit for my track record on sickness. No, I don't do shots: I have this aversion to needles, not to mention deliberately injecting pathogens into my body. So far the immune system I was given seems to be able to fight off whatever bug is slinking around. But hey: maybe this will be the year I get sick. If so, I'll lay around for a day or two and let someone else bring me some soup for a change.