When you first wake up with that nasty sore throat, stuffy nose or hacking cough that you’ve been trying so desperately to avoid all winter, it’s hard not to go on an angry mental hunt of who-dunnit. Was it that coughing lady on the bus who never bothered to cover her mouth? How could your sniffling cubicle buddy have the audacity to sneeze into his hands before using your desktop? That raspy voiced waitress definitely breathed laryngitis all over your lunch before bringing it to the table. Or perhaps it’s your own fault, because you didn’t bundle up enough, you didn’t take your vitamins, you didn’t lather on enough hand sanitizer.
Ever stop to blame your belly? New research has discovered some startling connections between excess body fat, your immune system and your ability to battle illness. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take this winter to fight both fat and flu at the same time. Keeping your weight down and your immune system strong will have you looking and feeling better this season, able to cope with anything that’s thrown – or sneezed – your way.
The Link between Weight Gain & Your Immune System
The immune system is comprised of several different kinds of cells that defend the body from viruses, harmful germs and foreign invaders. When you’re injured or sick, your immune system is geared to recognize and attack the infectious agent, dispatching teams of white blood cells that seek and destroy the source of the problem while kick- starting the healing process.
However, problems can arise if the immune system starts getting prank calls. Suited up and on the prowl for foreign invaders that aren’t actually there, white blood cells can start to build up and attack your own body cells, tissues and organs. This constant state of false red alert causes a high concentration of white blood cells to hang around in your body all the time, creating chronic low-grade inflammation, damage to your cells and organs, and a weakening of your body’s ability to fight off actual foreign invaders, like colds, flues, infections, and even illnesses like cancer. It also causes atherosclerosis and a host of other diseases.
What’s the link to lard? A recent Australian study discovered that fat cells activate the immune cells that produce these misguided chronic inflammatory responses in the body. Over time, this constant auto-immune assault and systemic inflammation can aggravate your liver and make your cells become insulin resistant, which can lead to diabetes and more weight gain. In fact, the Australian scientists found a direct connection between the amount of immune cells found in fat and the amount of weight their subjects were able to lose during a calorie restricted diet. The more activated immune cells a subject possessed, the more difficult their weight loss. The result is a vicious cycle of inflammation, weight gain, degrading immunity, illness and disease.
4 Steps to Women’s Weight Loss & a Strong Immune System
Luckily, there are a number of things you can do to power up both your fat burning furnace and your immune system at the same time.
- Cardio for colds. The Human Performance Laboratories at Appalachian State University tracked the health of 1000 people between the ages of 18 to 85 throughout 12 weeks in the fall and winter. They discovered that 30 minute power walks done 5 times a week activated the immune system for up to 3 hours after the exercise was completed. This served to protect the exercisers from more viruses and infections, and those that did catch a cold experienced symptoms that were 45 percent less severe and that disappeared more quickly. This study joins a growing mountain of evidence that people who exercise more often not only carry less body fat, but they also substantially reduce their risks of contracting colds, flues and other infections, and enjoy much quicker recovery times.
- Eating while ailing. There are a number of foods that can help you keep your weight down while also keeping your immune system powered up. Citrus fruits are high in immune boosting vitamin C while also low in calories, high in water content, and powerful as an appetite suppressor due to their tartness. Kefir and natural yogurts are high in probiotic gut bacteria that are known to improve your immune system while also regulating digestion. Dark leafy greens like kale and Swiss chard are packed with immune-pumping antioxidants and weight busting fiber, on hardly any calories. Garlic, onion and ginger possess antiviral and antibacterial properties and also boost metabolism. Green teas, white teas, ginger tea and peppermint tea can help with congestion, coughing and a sore throat, and studies show that they also aid with weight management and appetite control. Eating the right foods during sick season can keep flues at bay and fat away.
- Sleep away the sniffles. A 2001 sleep study showed that sleep deprivation – 5 hours of sleep or less – can have disastrous effects on your immune system’s ability to fight off infections. And scientists have found that lack of proper sleep doesn’t only make your immune system more sluggish; it makes your metabolism more sluggish as well. Sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on hormones that regulate hunger and satiation, causing you to eat more and your metabolism to slow down. The National Institute of Health recommends that, in order to maintain good health and weight, the average adult should get no less than 7.5 hours of sleep a night.
- Stress less during sickness. Stress floods the mind with unwanted thoughts and the body with unwanted hormones, like cortisol. These stress hormones deliver a double-whammy to the immune system, shutting off disease-fighting white blood cells while also encouraging white blood cells to attack the body, causing chronic inflammation and auto-immune diseases. Cortisol also amps up your appetite and cravings while eating away your fat-burning muscle tissues and bone tissues, leading to an increase in weight and abdominal fat. Keep anxiety at bay in your life by practicing coping strategies and relaxation techniques that work for you. Try taking regular evening walks, indulge in hot baths, listen to calming music, burn aromatic candles, practice meditation and breathing exercises that bring your heart rate and breathing rate to a slow and steady pace.
Protect yourself from colds by firing up your metabolism and immune system this winter. Maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle so you can look and feel your best all year long.