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Opinion My tips for feeling healthy and happy this winter

Last winter I got sick and I couldn’t shake it off without a trip to the doctors. In hindsight, it’s very obvious why – I wasn’t really taking great care of myself.

I’M NOT A big hygiene freak and I make absolutely no effort to avoid bugs and viruses, yet I’m rarely sick *knocks on wood*. If I do catch a cold, I can usually shake it off pretty fast because my immune system is strong and ready to take on most bad guys like some sort of a superhero.

However, last winter I did get sick and I couldn’t shake it off without a trip to the doctors. In hindsight, it’s very obvious why – I wasn’t really taking great care of myself. Simple as that. So this winter I’m not going to make the same mistake! Here’s what I do to keep myself strong and healthy:

1. Don’t eat crap

This means processed foods and the main culprit – sugar. Sugar absolutely ruins your immune system (in fact, it ruins your health in about million different ways). It is difficult to find processed foods that don’t contain sugar so it’s best to learn to eat clean, go back to basics and cook your own food (without sugar, of course).

I also avoid most dairy, especially milk and hard cheeses. I caught a nasty sinus infection for the first time in my life last winter and I found my daily latte made it flare up big time. I have never known pain like sinus pain and I don’t want to experience it again so no milky lattes for me, thank you very much.

2. Drink water

I always try to drink a lot of water, at least two litres a day though I aim to get three litres. Things like herbal teas and homemade juices also count towards your water intake.

Water flushes out toxins, helps with digestion, keeps your eyes and mouth clean, keeps you energised and even helps you sleep better among its many other benefits, all leading to a stronger immune system.

3. Take spirulina

Spirulina is my absolute number one favourite super food. I’ve been taking it on and off for the past ten years – off for the last few and when I started taking it again earlier this year I could feel its benefits instantly. It not only boosts your immune system but, thanks to its rich vitamin and mineral content, it also fights infections. I find it really gives me energy almost instantly. I take a teaspoon in a glass of water with lemon every morning and on the days I feel run down or just tired I take another dose in the afternoon.

4. Eat lemons

Okay, I don’t eat eat lemons – rather, squeeze the juice of half a lemon in a glass of water every morning (with spirulina). If I’m feeling a cold coming on, I’ll have another glass in the afternoon – even two or three. Lemon has numerous health benefits, such as it is great for flushing out toxins, alkalises the body and it’s high in vitamin C and many antioxidants. I also find it great for indigestion, bloating and any tummy problems. If lemon water isn’t your thing, an easy way to take it is in a juice or a smoothie.

5. Eat garlic

I would be lost without garlic and it surprises me how many people actually don’t seem to realise that it is full of healing goodness. Garlic is a natural antibiotic and hence great for fighting infections – and the great thing is that it’s cheap and easily available. It has numerous other health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.

If I feel my immune system or health in general needs a little boost, I take garlic every day. I always start taking it at the first sign of a cold coming on and, usually, after a day or two it’s gone. Cooking destroys many of its health benefits so it has to be taken raw (and no, it won’t make you smell). I chop up a clove of garlic really small and knock it back with a glass of water just like any other supplements/tablets after dinner (never take raw garlic on an empty stomach). You get used to the taste after a while; I rather put up with the taste than spend days being sick or risk having to take antibiotics (and spend money on doctors)!

Garlic is also a great home remedy for ear infections – I stick a clove in my daughter’s ear if she ever has a sore ear and so far there’s been no ear infections *knocks on wood*

6. Eat ginger

I love the taste of ginger so I tend to use it a lot, more or less daily. Ginger has some natural antibiotic properties, it’s anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial, meaning it kills bacteria. It’s absolutely packed with goodness and health benefits so you should try to include it as part of your regular diet. You can add it to a stir fry, flavour fish with it or add some to a homemade juice. Ginger tea is also great when you’re feeling unwell.

7. Take vitamin C and D

Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin and is absolutely essential for the absorption of iron, helps prevent cardiovascular disease and even wrinkles, among its many other benefits. I know I get plenty from my diet but for best results, I take a supplement to give me an extra boost when I feel I need it, and especially this time of year.

Vitamin D is vital for your immune system as well as your muscle function, cardiovascular system and respiratory system. We should, in theory, get it from the sun but even when we do see the sun, things like using sunscreen and pollution mean we aren’t getting enough so I like to take a supplement. These are really the only supplements I take regularly, I think everything else I get from spirulina!

8. Exercise outdoors

Exercise is an essential part of staying healthy and helps boost your immune system – it is a fact that fit people are sick far less than unfit people and when a physically fit person catches a bug, they are able to shake it off faster than an unfit person is. Obviously I don’t exercise just to boost my immune system but it is one of the many reasons why I want to always fit in daily exercise.

Exercising outdoors is even better as fresh air is known to boost immunity too, in fact, just being outdoors every day is beneficial, even if it’s just sitting in your garden. Another great thing to do is air out you home (and office) – open the windows, let out all the stale air and let the fresh air in.

9. Sleep

The reason why I caught that nasty, horrible awful sinus infection last winter was this, together with the next point: I was stressed, overworked and didn’t sleep enough.

Obviously I knew sleep was important but I always had a bit of an ‘sleep is for the weak’ attitude. Only when I was doing research for my book I really started to understand how absolutely vital sleep is and how it, no matter what, should always be our priority (with few exceptions, like when you have newborn!).

Getting enough sleep helps you lose weight, reduce stress, function better and it is particularly important for our immune systems, so this winter I’m going to make sure I won’t have too many late nights – I admit it, it’s not easy! I actually now think that it takes a lot of strength to go to bed early! Also, at the first sign of a cold, I nowadays head straight to bed to rest, giving my body a chance to focus on fighting off the bad guys.

10. Reduce stress

Busy, stressed people rarely sleep enough, that’s what happened to me. Along with sleep deprivation, stress is another thing that is extremely bad for our health in many ways and yet, I guess because we are so used to living with it, we rarely do much to prevent it.

Stress causes your body to release more cortisol, which in turn prevents your immune cells from doing their job properly, which is why often when you’re stressed you catch a cold (the last thing you need when you have enough on your plate already, right?). I have learned from my errors and now I make a real effort to try and not get stressed – sleep, exercise and good diet are keys to this.

Here’s to a healthy winter!

*Note: If you want to take any of the above mentioned supplements, please go to a good health food store to get advice on a dosage that’s suitable for you. These are just things I personally take but I’m not qualified to give advice on supplements to others.*

Tina Murphy is the author of Slim With Tina, recently released by Mercier Press.

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