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How To Prepare Your Body For Autumn

Updated: Sep 4, 2022

5 Tips on how to support your immune system and prepare for colder days ahead

Like every year, we have waved goodbye to longer days, sunny weather (all that good Vitamin D!) and short shorts, and have been feeling perhaps a bit hesitant to embrace those grey skies and pumpkin spiced lattes just yet. However, I do believe that every season has its own charm and Autumn is no less. So how do we prepare ourselves mentally and physically to take on the seasons' change and everything that comes with it?

I have put together a guide with my 5 top tips to help support your immune system and help your body adapt to this transition period until Winter arrives.

But before we dive into it, we should highlight the fact that our immune system isn't just a binary switch: it's made up by so many components and we need to look after so many things to make sure everything works in harmony. So don't worry about having a 'good' or 'bad' immune system, and instead, focus on doing whatever it is you can to make sure you are feeling happy, healthy and fulfilled, knowing that despite all of our efforts, occasional colds or flu may still happen.

1. Nourish your immune system and feed your soul

There has never been a more important time to keep physically well, so it is my priority to support you in making the best choices that you can. I pride myself with giving practical advice, so we will focus on some simple guidelines to help you consume nutrient dense, energy balanced foods.

The best 'diet' for you

With so much information out there and so many opinions, it may feel hard to decide who to trust. So let me make it easy for you: there is currently inconclusive evidence to support one dietary approach to eating over another, because most experts will put forward their theories sharing their findings, but at at the end of the day, we are all different and it's important to find a diet that suits your needs, goals, preferences, culture and finances.

There is no 'one size fits all' when it comes to nutrition and as science evolves, we must be flexible and open to new approaches and different findings.

Balance is key

I am a 'foodie', or better - I LOVE FOOD - so I completely understand that you want to enjoy the food you eat and that is why I take a very balanced approach to nutrition. It's what you do MOST of the time that counts and it's about adopting nutrition and lifestyle habits that are sustainable for you in the long term. I like to focus on adding in delicious and nutritious foods rather than removing things from your meals, as this is much more sustainable and less restrictive. We live in uncertain times, there are many things beyond our control and that are changing fast, so try not to introduce unnecessary and unsettling changes all at once and instead choose 1-2 changes at a time, work towards them becoming easy to maintain habits and then build up on that.

Have you ever heard of the 80-20 approach in nutrition? It’s a simple ‘rule’ that encourages to eat nutritious food 80% of the time and less nutritious food 20% of the time.

While I don’t love to label food, the word nutritious is the only one I actually associate with it that's pretty straightforward. Food can nourish your body and help you feel more energised and happy, so it’s important to listen to what your body actually needs.

Immune supporting foods

The immune system requires a wide variety of nutrients to function optimally, which are available in many different foods, especially if you focus on eating a varied, highly coloured, whole food diet each day. In some recent research, plant-based foods (vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits) has been shown to increase the beneficial intestinal bacteria which make-up up to 85% of the immune system.

Here is a list of some of my favourites so you can start adding them to your shopping list and recipes:

  1. Garlic and onions: they contain sulphur compounds and allicin which give them strong anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties.

  2. Herbs and spices: they are antibacterial, anti-viral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and have decongestant properties. They are so easy to add to your recipes and they are easy to store for longer. Here's the towel trick: wrap the fresh herbs in a damp paper towel, place in a plastic bag in the fridge and store for 10-14 days.

  3. Mushrooms: all mushrooms contain beta glucans, which have been found to help fight inflammation and aid the immune system. They increase the production of cytokines, which are cells that help fight off infection. Here's a trick to increase their Vitamin D absorption: leave out in the sun to increase their immune boosting vitamin D content between 10am and 3pm.

  4. Berries: they are full of antioxidants, phytonutrients, and trace minerals, and many are also good sources of Vitamin C. Because they tend to be sprayed with pesticides, opt for organic ones if you can or thoroughly wash before consumption. You can buy frozen berries when out of season, just make sure they have been frozen close to foraging time.

  5. Dark Green Leafy Veg: Kale, spinach, pak choi and Swiss chard are great immune-supporting foods and should be eaten daily. They contain high levels of the vitamins C, K, and folate, which are all good immune system boosters. The darker the leaves are, the better!

  6. Nuts, Seeds and Avocado: they all contain essential fats, vitamin E, selenium and other important immune supporting nutrients. They are all great snacks ideas as they provide the energy your body needs in between meals. Add a handful of mixed nuts and seeds to yoghurt, breakfast cereal or a smoothie to increase nutrient content. Avocados are great in salads, smoothies or made into guacamole for a delicious accompaniment for main meals.

  7. Honey: it has numerous medicinal properties, including soothing sore throats and coughs. It also has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties to help fight infections from viruses, bacteria and fungi. The darker the honey, the better its antibacterial and antioxidant power. If you can, buy locally sourced honey, as the one bought in supermarkets contains added sugars and very little honey.

  8. Citrus Fruits: besides containing great amounts of Vitamin C, citrus fruits contain anti-tumour, antiviral, anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals that are incredibly important to support our health. The peel contains the most nutrients, so grate it into drinks, porridge, soups etc. and add juice and fruit slices to water, teas etc. for increased benefits.

  9. Coconut Oil: it contains immune boosting properties due to the type of fatty acids (lauric acid) it's made of. Lauric acid can kill harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses and fungi. 2 tablespoons per day will be enough for proven benefits.

2. Immune supporting nutrients

The foods listed above contain all the nutrients you should be including in your diet if you are looking to help boost your immune system. However, due to many reasons including financial, ethical and geographical, we may not be able to access to all these foods. So this is where supplementation can be helpful.

I have put together a list of minerals and vitamins to support immune health, which you may want to consider adding to your already-nutrient-dense diet (there's no point to supplement a poor quality nutrition lifestyle really).

  1. Vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) is made by most plants and animals, except humans, so it is an essential dietary component. It's involved in protein metabolism, it has antioxidant function and it can regenerate other antioxidants such as vitamin E, it improves absorption of non-heme iron and it supports the immune system. Interestingly, it's inhibited by nicotine, alcohol and the oral contraceptive pill.

  2. Vitamins A and E are both antioxidants, they play a role in immune function as well as helping vision, cell growth and other metabolic processes. They help reduce inflammation in the body thanks to their ability to reduce free radicals. Both vitamin A and E are enhanced by fats in the diet.

  3. Vitamin D is produced in the body when ultraviolet rays strike the skin and instigate its production. It's responsible for calcium absorption in the body, as well as bone health, immune function, reduction of inflammation, cell growth and neuromuscular function. There are very few dietary sources of Vitamin D, hence why sun exposure and/or supplementation are crucial.

  4. Iron and Zinc: both are important parts of the immune system and while Zinc depleted by alcohol and excess sugars, Iron is reduced by caffeine, soy products and lectins. They work well together to help support your body's immune system.

3. Prioritise your sleep

I could write a whole blog post about sleep (or more) and maybe I will at some point, but for now, I'll try to explain why I believe sleep plays such an important role for our health. Especially as we step into Autumn!

I have always been someone who enjoys sleeping and I do prioritise it a lot over other things, but I have lived all my life thinking that perhaps I was 'wasting time' while sleeping, and that I should have been doing other things instead. But why? Why does our society praise those who barely sleep, work hard and never rest? Why do we glorify the concept of 'sleeping once we'll be dead'? Honestly, I don't know and I have given up trying to figure out the why, instead focusing on what I can do as a Nutrition and Lifestyle Consultant to help my clients improve their sleep quantity and quality.

Quality sleep is as essential to survival as food and water, and recommendations are that we sleep around 7 to 8 hours per night. However, even if we do follow the recommended guidelines, almost 2/3 of people feel like they are not as well rested. This is possibly because quality is also crucial as it allows our brains and body to restore properly from the day we had. That being said, every individual is different, and just like with diets, there's no one size fits all when it comes to sleep. Ultimately it's a practice that takes time, understanding what works for you so that you can feel rested in the morning and energised for the day ahead. So in a sense, quality AND quantity, not OVER quantity.

When it comes to creating a bed time routine, it's important - just like anything else - to make sure it works and it's sustainable for you.

I will provide a few of the things that have worked for my clients and that hopefully will support you too:

  1. Avoid stimulation right before bedtime. This includes screen time (TV, phone, tables, etc.), stress factors, caffeine, bright lights, loud noises, high intensity exercising, and sugar.

  2. Create a period of relaxing activities before you go to sleep, which should last about 30 minutes. This could be anything from a hot bath, a face cleanse, a light read, meditation, breathwork, journaling...whatever works for you that doesn't include brain stimulation.

  3. Leave stress at the door. Now this is probably the hardest one (after getting off Instagram maybe) because we are not robots and we cannot just switch off our brains. However, there are things that we can do to let go of a part of our problems. Note down everything that's stressing you, every little thing that would keep you up at night. I know it's a bit dramatic, but think of it this way: if you were to die during your sleep, what would happen the next day? Would you be causing pain to someone if you didn't complete a task? Would the world fall into pieces if one of your problems wouldn't be solved? Put things into perspective and maybe give your stress factors a deadline (no pun intended). Focus on the things that really matter and write down all the steps you need to take to sort out your issue. Although I am aware that there are certain things that no strategy or plan can fix - such as grief, breakups, illnesses, etc. - so maybe rely on someone to talk to and create a support system to help you get through it.

  4. Prepare your room so that you can actually relax and rest. Declutter, organise and tidy up! This may sound silly, but some of us find it hard to relax when there's a mess around them. So clear out your room of any unnecessary thing and make space for the things that help you: blackout curtains, essential oils, keep the room temperature regulated, remove any loud appliance or clock, and dim the lights.

4. Exercise for immune support

Generally speaking, adults need 30 minutes of "moderate to vigorous physical activity" almost every day.

Physical movements and exercises that increases heart rate for a sustained amount of time (about 30-minute) helps your body deploy certain types of white blood cells - powerful immune cells - from different parts of your body to circulate at a higher rate than normal so any pathogens are more easily detected and destroyed during this process. Soon after a workout, these immune cells start to decline but are still dispatched around the body where they continue to keep an eye out for unwanted invaders.

So exercise is like a kickstart for the immune system that lasts about three hours. This occurs after every bout of moderate to vigorous exercise. Meaning that if you exercise regularly, you’ll experience these effects after each session and your immune system is healthier. This all leads to researches that have proven that people who exercise regularly also do tend to get ill less frequently.

There are many forms of exercise and ALL of them are important, but to keep your motivation high it's important that you choose the one you actually enjoy. When choosing your preferred form of exercise, ask yourself: how much time can you actually set a side, where can you exercise, alone or with a partner, will you have to invest money or do you have what you need? It's very important to keep your goals realistic so that expectations can be met.

We should also be aiming to walk around 10,000 steps per day, but it's just a guideline and perhaps a little push for us to get out more, it's not scientifically proven that it has any benefits.

5. Self Care & Relaxation

Last but not least, definitely not less important, are all the things we can do to help our body relax. Whenever stress is predominant in our lives, our immune system is heavily compromised.

Aim to incorporate at least 2-3 relaxing and calming activities into your day by choosing whatever you enjoy, such as a bath, meditation, reading, exercise - whatever you love. Write them down and commit to them - your mental health is as important as your physical health.

Here are some of the things I try to recommend my clients and that I value to be crucial for our psychological wellbeing:

1. Stay connected: keep in touch with friends and family as much as possible. Even if traveling can be challenging right now, check in and set some time for a friendly chat. You never know how much you need that conversation until you do. If you can safely meet in person, then great! Enjoy a nutritious meal together, take a walk, engage in physical activities together or anything creative. Two pigeons with one stone!

2. Reduce the news and social media to a minimum: social media is definitely a great way to keep in touch, but it's also a cause for anxiety and depression. Unfollow anyone who may be triggering you and reduce time spent to a minimum. If you use an iPhone, it's great to set up a time limit on the app use.

Same goes for the news, it can be SO depressing and a lot of the time not even relevant to what you need.

3. Reconnect with nature: the benefits of fresh air or the sight of nature can be incredible. Try to connect with nature or simply go outside as much as possible. Even if days are getting shorter and colder, commit to a short walk without being on your phone, and simply enjoy the sight of nature's beauty.

4. Take 10 minutes for yourself: whether you have children, pets, demanding partners or a crazy schedule, 10 minutes to yourself out of 24 hours is really not a lot. So why is it so damn hard? Well, we are humans and we get easily distracted. Try to commit to 10 minutes out of your day to just sit with yourself. Maybe a cup of coffee or tea, or simply looking outside a window. I promise it does wonders.

6. Unleash your creativity: be inspired by the season ahead and get creative! Whether that's in the kitchen crafting some great recipes or on your living room's floor painting something, take this time to let it all out. It's easy to get stuck in front of our phones or TVs, or both, and feel 'uninspired'. But you are your greatest inspiration and you owe it to yourself to make this time of the year as pleasurable as you can.

If you managed to read this far, congratulations! You are on the right path towards having a wonderful season :)

I hope this blog post will help you tackle the challenges you may encounter these days.

As always, I would love to hear your feedback or if you have any questions, so please do not hesitate to get in touch!

With love,

Marta x

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