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Fighting Fit

Basics matter—recent studies show that frequent exercise helps strengthen the immune system and possibly even delay its aging. We work and relax with a screen, and when it’s cold outside we tend to spend even more cozy time inside, making it difficult to commit to fitness. Encourage yourself to keep moving and try not to let your practice dip as the days get shorter (but don’t get down about a few extra slip-ups). Try a colorful mat, green makes us happy (and is a big color this year). When cold season comes around, you’ll be ready.

Zzz’s Are the Best Medicine

For busy people sleep is a luxury, but when it comes to this indulgence, live lavishly—doctor’s orders. Sleep is so important for staying healthy; during deep sleep certain hormones are released that aid the immune system, and a recent study found that sleep may help strengthen the necessary “stickiness” of a type of immune cell called T cells by allowing our stress hormones to temporarily lower.

It’s so hard to sleep when you’re stressed out. Exercise, meditation, and a natural calming aid like Valerian root can help. Valerian is a slender, flowering plant that can improve sleep quality and reduce time spent staring at the ceiling. It’s available in everything from tea to body cream.

It’s Alive!

Our bodies are an incredible ecosystem of unique microorganisms that coexist peacefully, and part of staying healthy is keeping it that way. You’ve probably heard about “probiotics” before, or even had a doctor suggest you take them after a dose of antibiotics. We’re becoming more aware of our bodies as thriving, changing environments.

The microbiome stimulates the immune system, so bring in some reinforcement to resist the woes of chilly weather by incorporating healthy foods with beneficial bacteria. Yogurt, miso, and kombucha are more than it-foods—they’re packed with friendly bacteria like lactobacillus acidophilus that can help boost the immune system and improve resistance to respiratory infections. It’s also available as a supplement in powdered or capsule form.

Medicinal Plant of the Sea

Edible seaweed like kelp and red algae have been staples of coastal cuisines in Japan, Korea, and Norway for centuries, and in addition to bringing that elusive umami flavor, there are some pretty nutritious reasons why. Many types are high in iron, iodine, and vitamins C, E, A, and B, and very low in calories. Jumping back to that microbiome of ours (both unpleasant and amazing at the same time), algae contains high amounts of fiber that help feed intestinal bacteria, that can in turns boost immune system health. A recent footnote to seaweed’s rich history, Kim Kardashian caused a stir in May by posting a purple “sea moss smoothie” on Instagram to the dismay and awe of many. Hey—don’t knock it ‘til you try it.

Tried and True

A perennial in the ivy family, American ginseng has been exported to Asia for use in herbal medicine since the 18th century due to its sweet taste and relaxing effects, as opposed to the more invigorating Asian ginseng. It has long been used in traditional medicine to boost the immune system, and according to Mount Sinai’s Health Library several clinical studies have shown that American ginseng boosts the performance of cells that play a role in the immune system.

There are so many great ginseng recipes online, particularly herbal chicken soups, which are great options for chilly weather, the bitterness of the ginseng adds complexity to any simple broth. There are also supplements and extracts that offer higher concentrations.

(Please be sure to check for drug interactions before taking any herbal supplements.)