Cold & Flu Season
Updated: Nov 21, 2018
No matter how mild our winter is here in New Orleans, the cold weather creeps its way in. Winter’s arrival also means welcoming cold & flu season. You see marketing for the flu shot and OTC flu/cold meds as the season approaches. We all make the connection between sickness and winter, but have you ever asked yourself why it’s prevalent during this time of year? Today’s blog post is to provide you with insight as to why cold & flu season happens during this time of year as well as ways to go about mitigating your risk.
Given the tilt of the earth during a northern hemisphere winter, sun intensity and exposure is limited. This directly and indirectly influences your health. Although the days remain 24 hours long, the hours of daylight are less than that in summer.
We are creatures of the sun. The statement sounds cheesy but it’s true! There’s a reason our natural circadian rhythm has us active during the day and asleep at night. The sun heavily influences the body’s internal environment in several ways. For one, your billions of mitochondria serve as energy factories within each cell, and they rely on light frequencies from the sun for their most basic functions. When mitochondria health suffers, you suffer. If the smallest fundamental parts of your body cannot function at their best, then the bigger picture (you) cannot function at its best.
So you’re inside in plenty of light all day anyway—
Lightbulbs and buildings full of artificial lighting have only been around for the tiniest, most irrelevant fraction of our evolutionary history. We evolved under the influence of sunlight. Unlike artificial light, sunlight contains all colors of the spectrum. And it’s no secret that most plants don’t thrive indoors unless they get sunlight. We all need the real deal for life.
Your body also uses sunlight to form vitamin D and convert it to its usable form, vitamin D sulfate. Among many other important roles, vitamin D sulfate plays a huge part in your immunity as it activates T cells. Your immune system is less likely to defend itself against viruses and pathogens as a result.
Sunlight is also necessary for the conversion of cholesterol into sex hormones. High cholesterol is never a good thing, but perhaps cholesterol is high because your body isn’t being provided with the tools to make use of it. If you haven’t checked out the blog post on cholesterol, you can do so here.
Although the sun has countless effects on the body, the last direct point I want to touch on is the natural endorphin release you get from being in the sun. Sunlight increases dopamine release and sensitivity in the body. Happiness: engaged. I mean how good does it feel to step outside and feel the sun on your skin? It instantly puts a smile on my face.
The above mentioned are all ways that sunlight directly influences health, but let’s talk about the indirect influences. I don’t know about you, but I spend most of my weekends in the late spring, summer, and early fall outside. I’m much more active and eager to explore local parks and do activities outside. The sunshine has me up and moving. After all, heat is a natural catalyst! When winter rolls around, the last thing I want to do is be outside, which means I’m far less active. I’m indoors breathing in the same stale air as whoever else is in the vicinity. You can only cozy up inside for so long before you get stir crazy and that creates its own anxiety. Being sedentary leads to a cascade of health issues, which should come as no surprise.
because stress = suppressed
When you are under severe stress, your body cannot function as if it's under optimal conditions.
When stress goes up, everything takes the hit-- from your digestive system, to the thyroid, and to the immune system to name a few. Stress literally kills.
Let’s consider the following:
Less sun exposure + holiday chaos = the recipe for poor immunity
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Ever are smack-dab in the middle of our winter. Forget that these holidays only make up a total of three days because the celebration seems to last for a full six weeks. This brings about crazy changes to your routine. Kids are out of school, your calendar is filled with holiday parties, and it’s likely that your work schedule changes around the holidays, too. You're probably too busy to even acknowledge how stressful it is (but you'll find a way to pencil that in somewhere.)
Most likely, you or your coworkers are bringing in baked goodies and the office is hosting a holiday luncheon again. The word "no" is not in your vocabulary. "It's the holidays" you tell yourself. Your diet turns into one more inconsistency that you’re throwing into the mix. A crazy schedule typically pushes one to choose convenience over health, making it more likely that you’ll order out for dinner or go through a fast food drive-thru.
The above madness usually creates this very brief but overwhelming momentum for getting “fit”. People hit the gym and find a treadmill to take over for forty-five minutes to an hour to keep the winter fluff at bay. Exercise and movement are necessary for a healthy body, but suddenly overdoing it at the gym only adds another stressor to an already overworked body. Exercise is a stressor that must be used properly in order to be effective. Instead of adding more to your schedule by adding more cardio, make better food choices so that you’re not trying to undo whatever crap it was that you ate. If you're hitting the gym because you're feeling too stressed out, then it's time for you to find a new hobby.
Ways to better your chances for avoidance
1. Don’t de-prioritize sleep. Most people underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep, let alone night after night of adequate sleep. The process is restorative for nearly every part of your body, including your immune system. Let the troops recharge and allow your army to grow!
Your holiday calendar might call for later nights than usual. Allow yourself to sleep in when you can and get to bed early. People spend countless minutes (even hours) scrolling through social media before bed. That extra FOMO, anxiety, and self-comparison won’t help you get to sleep any faster. Put the phone away and grab a book to wind down.
2. Eat a well-rounded diet. There’s no point in promoting the importance of zinc or vitamin C if your diet is poor in the first place. No one supplement is going to be as effective as consuming a well-rounded diet to provide you with carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. No single vitamin or mineral can do its many jobs without the help of other nutritional counterparts. You won’t find quality vitamins and minerals in processed foods. Eating clean is hard to do during the holidays, but it’s certainly not impossible. The less excuse you give yourself to eat like crap, the better-equipped your immune system will be, and the better you will feel.
3. Lighten your schedule. Maybe your schedule is getting the best of you or you’re feeling a bit rundown. Are there any social obligations you can cancel? You don’t really need to go to that cookie decorating party. Be honest with yourself and set your priorities so that YOU are one of them. Soak in the tub or go for a walk. Find someone relaxing to do. The gym doesn’t count.
4. If you are feeling even the slightest bit under the weather— itchy throat, stuffy nose, sneezes— stay out of the gym. Stop trying to “sweat it out”. Not only are you running your already compromised system down even more, but you’re spreading whatever virus or infection to everyone else at the gym. No matter how well you think you’re wiping your equipment down, be mindful and stay home. If you really feel the need to sweat it out, go take a hot bath and listen to some music or a fun podcast.
Wishing you the happiest and healthiest of holidays,