It’s barely December and we are already seeing clients struggling with colds, viruses, and other unsavory seasonal illnesses.
Why oh why is it the tastiest and most festive times of year are also the most sickly!? It just doesn’t seem fair.
Thankfully, there is a lot you can do to prevent pesky seasonal illnesses like this from ruining your holiday cheer—which is what we’ll focus on today in the top 10 ways to maintain your health this holiday season.
And most of these tips are inherently practical, affordable, and easy to implement right now. Let’s take a peek, shall we?
#10: Start taking these preventative immune system supplements right now
If you’re not already sick, now is the ideal time to start loading up on Echinacea and Vitamin D.
While not all herbs and vitamins have been proven equally effective at preventing unwanted ailments, these two have shown stellar results in studies for helping your immune system ward off cold, flu, and other viruses before they can take hold(1)(2).
Your best source of vitamin D is the sunshine.
Aim for 15-20 minutes of unprotected sunlight a day. Or you can take a whole foods supplement, just check with your practitioner about appropriate dosage.
For the best quality Echinacea, look for a quality professional-grade supplement (we recommend MediHerb at the center for its superior potency and value).
#9: Keep these herbs and this mineral handy if you do get sick
Though Echinacea and Vitamin D are great preventative immune system supplements, we recommend different remedies for when you are actually sick.
For example, olive leaf extract has been proven one of nature’s most effective herbs at supporting immunity and helping fight flu and infections once already contracted(3).
And Elderberry (also known as sambucus) has been shown to shorten colds(4).
Zinc has been shown super-effective for helping shorten the duration of a cold, plus it soothes a sore throat(5).
Potency, source and quality matter in terms of effectiveness, so whenever possible, be sure to choose professional-grade supplements from your local integrative health practitioner.
#8: Be Proactive About Eating Probiotic Foods
Over the holidays it’s easy to get busy and forget to eat and prepare the foods we need to maintain strong immunity.
Of all the foods you shouldn’t forget to eat this time of year, probiotic-rich foods are key.
Too busy to prepare your usual batch of cultured vegetables or kombucha?
Cut yourself a break and buy them pre-made. With so many high-quality brands available in natural food stores, it pays to invest a little in your health until you can get back to making your own.
Just be sure you’re buying truly fermented foods (which shouldn’t list vinegar as a main ingredient), and when buying kombucha look for the lowest-sugar brands.
Do you need a probiotic supplement in addition?
While they can be helpful if you have specific gastrointestinal issues or are coming-down-with-something, you can get too much of a good thing by taking a supplement.
Therefore, our advice is to stick to eating your probiotics unless your practitioner advises otherwise and/or you feel like you’re getting sick.
#7: Get more sleep than usual
There’s a reason we all want to climb into bed early this time of year, we need more rest when it gets cold and dark out.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, many doctors would in fact recommend you honor the season’s rhythms by getting into bed when the sun goes down, and staying there until the sun comes up.
Plus, sleep is the ultimate immune-boosting remedy. Without it, our bodies cannot detoxify and heal.
As much as I’d love to see you get into bed at 8PM and sleep until 7AM this time of year, realistically for prevention, healthy adults need to aim for 7.5-9 hours per night. If you’re under a lot of stress or not eating as healthfully as you should be, then aim for 9 hours.
And if your lifestyle is such that you can get in bed by 8PM and sleep until 7AM, you should do it without reservation…even if only once or twice a week.
#6: Schedule an acupuncture appointment
Acupuncture has been proven beyond a doubt to help keep your immune system strong and help you get well when you’re not at your best(6).
During the holidays especially, aim to set up at least two acupuncture appointments to help bolster immunity, reduce stress, and address any health issues.
#5: Keep an eye on your alcohol intake
With late-night holiday parties and the added stress that comes with the season, it can be easy to overindulge in alcoholic beverages…which are typically loaded with immune-zapping sugar.
Plus, alcohol can really disrupt your sleep.
To help curb this, try swapping out low-sugar, non-alcoholic beverages like sparkling water, kombucha or even stevia-sweetened sodas for a treat.
#4: Stick to your meal plan (and keep it low-sugar, low-carb)
With all the time-sucking running around that comes with the season it can be tempting to ditch your meal plan and opt for takeout.
However, this time of year it is especially prudent to stick with nutrient-dense, low-carb, low-sugar homemade foods as much as possible to maintain immunity.
Often you can find services to do this for $25 an hour, which could save you tons of time and stress down the road.
#3: Take time to be present and mindful
Though the term mindfulness is a tad overused, the plain truth is it is one of the most effective, time-tested ways to reduce stress, improve sleep, and keep your immune system healthy.
And mindfulness can be practiced any number of ways, from playing a musical instrument, to taking a brisk walk, to writing down what you’re grateful for, to meditating—either self-guided or with help from an app like Headspace®.
However you choose to do it, carve out 10 minutes per day (minimum) to slow down and just “be” in the present moment.
#2: Keep moving!
Exercise is the ultimate rejuvenator for your entire body, including your immune system.
And you don’t have to kill yourself to reap the benefits!
Even getting three to four 30-minute periods of exercise, like brisk walking, interval training, or yoga, a week will do wonders to reduce stress and stabilize blood sugar—which both affect your immunity.
The key is to keep a regular routine, ideally 3-4 times a week, 30 minutes per session for best results.
#1: Avoid antibiotics by knowing your options
It just never ceases to amaze me that despite the world health crisis of antibiotic resistance, doctors continue to dole out countless prescriptions for conditions that could be easily remedied a safer way.
Though antibiotics are sometimes necessary, the truth is they are still over-prescribed—especially for things like upper respiratory conditions in which they have been shown largely ineffective(7).
Before you fill that prescription, consider alternatives like those herbs mentioned above, and consult with a qualified integrative health professional (like us) for less harmful—and often more effective—drug-free options.
Finally, if you do fall ill don’t beat yourself up.
Rather take advantage of the opportunity to rest, knowing if you care for yourself properly by following this advice and good old common sense, you will emerge stronger for it.
Happy Healthy Holidays from all of us at Merritt Wellness Center!
1: Urashima, M, et al. “Randomized Trial of Vitamin D Supplementation to Prevent Seasonal Influenza A in Schoolchildren.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition., U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20219962.
2: Tiralongo, E., et al. “Randomised, Double Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Echinacea Supplementation in Air Travellers.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Hindawi, 20 Dec. 2011, www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2012/417267/citations/.
3: Omar, Syed Haris. “Oleuropein in Olive and Its Pharmacological Effects.” Scientia Pharmaceutica, Österreichische Apotheker-Verlagsgesellschaft, 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3002804/.
4: Tiralongo, Evelin, et al. “Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.” Nutrients, MDPI, Apr. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848651/.
5:Hemilä, H, et al. “Zinc Acetate Lozenges for Treating the Common Cold: an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis.” British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27378206.
6: Liang, Fengxia, et al. “Acupuncture and Immunity.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : ECAM, Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4540978/.
7: Stone, S, et al. “Antibiotic Prescribing for Patients with Colds, Upper Respiratory Tract Infections, and Bronchitis: A National Study of Hospital-Based Emergency Departments.” Annals of Emergency Medicine., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2000, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11020678.