The human body is a fascinating organism. It constantly works hard to produce and repair cells, defend against illness and disease, remove waste, process the nutrients we put into it (and the not-so-nutritious content we consume), enables you to reproduce, and basically live each day to the best of your physical ability.
It isn’t until there’s a kink in the chain and something goes wrong that we really appreciate the value of our health. From personal experience, I was not prepared for the length of time my recovery would take after I had pleurisy. I tried thinking of all the things I could do to speed up the process and even pushed myself, thinking if I wanted it bad enough, recovery would happen that much faster. Sadly, while our bodies are remarkable works of art, they also work at their own pace and you just have to let your body mend one day at a time.
There isn’t anything we can do to ensure that we will never catch the most recent virus or bug that is doing the rounds, but we can give our bodies the best chance possible to defend themselves. The effectiveness of the immune system declines as we age, so getting into the habit of eating the right foods will benefit you in years to come. With approximately 70-80% of your immune system located in your digestive system, feeding it with the nutrients it needs will enable your body to work as efficiently as possible.
Top 10 immune-boosting foods
1. Almonds: almond skin has been found to aid white blood cells (our immune system cells) to identify viruses and stop them replicating and spreading throughout the body. If you buy almond products, make sure the skin is still intact on the nut as many almond products contain almonds that have been blanched to remove the skin.
2. Broccoli: contains phytochemicals that produce the colour, flavour and smell of vegetables. They have been found to boost the immune system. The healthiest way to eat vegetables is to steam them, as this helps to retain the nutrients, which can be lost when boiling.
3. Cinnamon: it is not just an easy way to flavour foods or drinks but it boosts the immune system and is believed to also regulate blood sugar levels.
4. Spinach: is packed with vitamin C, one of the main vitamins that support the body’s immunity and helps to protect healthy cells. Like broccoli, try not to boil or overcook it in order to retain the nutrients.
5. Citrus fruits: when eating a high-fat diet, unused fat is stored in the body’s cells, which can harm healthy cells. The immune system protects the healthy cells but if a high-fat diet continues for a long period of time, the immune system eventually becomes suppressed. Citrus fruit is high in antioxidants, reducing the risk of damage to healthy cells, therefore supporting the immune system.
6. Garlic: when the cloves are cut, chopped or crushed, allicin, an immune-stimulating nutrient, is released. Garlic has been recognised and used for thousands of years for its proven infection-fighting benefits.
7. Ginger: it contains an oily resin called gingerol, which is an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. It also prevents the build-up of toxins in our organs and helps to clean the lymphatic system, which transports waste products away from cells throughout the whole body.
8. Sunflower seeds: contain the mineral selenium, which helps the immune system to protect against cell damage. They also promote healthy skin, hair and nails due to high levels of vitamin E.
9. Turmeric: with more than 6,000 studies referencing turmeric and its endless benefits, it’s safe to say this is one of the most well-known and used natural remedies to support the body.
10. Crushed red pepper: a 2010 study published in Nutrition and Practice found that the antioxidants contained in the fruit support the body's immune system in the fight against disease.
If you are in need of some inspiring recipes, visit EatingWell for a wide range of meals that you could try.
One of the most effective things you can do when you’re feeling stressed is to take control of your situation. It might sound easier said than done as it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re run down. However, only you can change your circumstances. Acknowledging and facing your stress will get you off on the right foot and empower you to bring about positive change.
Here are some stress management techniques that you could include in your daily routine to help promote your mental wellbeing.
This is one of the most natural activities humans can do to express themselves. Regardless of whether or not you can hold a tune, solo or group singing has been proven to benefit your mental wellbeing. A study published by Psychology of Music found that the anxiety levels of individuals who took part in a structured one-hour choir session had reduced anxiety levels at the end of the activity. When singing, the pituitary gland in the brain releases endorphins – the hormone responsible for relieving pain and inducing feelings of pleasure. This physiological effect leaves you feeling less stressed and more positive. With Christmas slowly approaching, why not join a local choir and start preparing for carol concerts? Choral singing also has social benefits and is a great way to meet new people.
There can be no better way to improve your wellbeing than by helping others. Volunteering helps individuals to build social ties and support systems, increasing confidence and reducing isolation. While developing a sense of purpose, helping others by volunteering also increases your levels of dopamine – another of the body’s main feel-good hormones.
This technique will be no surprise. Meditation has been practiced in the east for thousands of years but moved to the mainstream more recently. It is a technique used to quieten and calm the mind, resulting in emotional positivity and a sense of peace. Mindfulness is one type of meditation, where you focus the mind on the present moment and the ‘here and now’. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can improve emotional stresses including anxiety, depression and pain.
The aim of mindfulness meditation is observation. As you focus on your breathing, you acknowledge the thoughts that come into and out of your mind, without reacting to them. Mindfulness is based on the principle that thoughts come and go but you choose how you respond to them. By not physically and mentally acting on negative thoughts, you allow them to pass, giving you greater control over your thoughts and in turn, emotional wellbeing.
There are many meditation apps to introduce beginners to the practice and even as little as 10 minutes a day can have a positive effect. I have to admit that I’m not the most disciplined person and can go days without meditating. But I can honestly say I feel a lot calmer when I get into a good routine. I find it more beneficial to meditate when I get home from work, as it helps me to let go of anything that has bothered me during the day.
We all know the importance of exercise – it reduces blood pressure, cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and many other lifestyle-related conditions. Exercise also stimulates the body to produce endorphins and lowers the levels of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. While it can be difficult to motivate yourself to go to the gym or an exercise class in the first place, most people would agree that they feel much better for doing so after they have worked out.
For some people the gym can be quite an intimidating environment to walk in to. I remember joining a local gym a few years ago and feeling really anxious just walking from the entrance to the changing room. My heart was beating so fast I didn’t need to do a cardiovascular workout after that! As the weeks passed it got a lot easier as I became relaxed seeing regular faces. However, there are plenty of other forms of exercise that you can do outside of a gym. My favourite form of exercise is walking. It’s free and being outside in the fresh air really lifts my spirits. Brisk walking offers all of the health benefits mentioned above, doesn’t hurt your bank balance and can be done on your own or with others.
5. Breathing techniques
Breathing techniques are considered to be one of the best methods to reduce stress levels. One of the most beneficial stress-management techniques that I was introduced to is the 4/9 breathing technique. After I had pleurisy I saw a counsellor to manage my health-related anxiety. He taught me this very simple technique that has become part of my everyday life. All you need to do is count to 4 as you breathe in and 9 as you breathe out. Do not purposely change the speed of your breathing, just focus on the counting. As you start to do it you will notice that your breathing will naturally fall into a relaxed rhythm.
Breathing techniques work by counteracting the symptoms of stress. When you feel agitated your pulse rate increases, blood pressure rises and you breathe quicker. By focusing on your breathing you are first and foremost distracting your mind from whatever it is that is causing your distress. As you deeply inhale in a calmer manner you enable more oxygen to circulate around the body and alleviate the symptoms of stress.
To feel the benefit of breathing techniques it is important to do them every day and not just when you’re feeling stressed. Regularly practising a breathing technique means that it will have a quicker effect when you need to calm your mind and body. I do my 4/9 breathing while sat at the computer, walking around the office and when driving. You can literally do it anywhere.
For more information about stress management, this How to Manage Stress PDF from Mind is a useful resource. Your GP can also advise you if your stress levels are having a negative impact on your wellbeing.
Next week I will explain how a strong immune system starts in the gut and which foods help to boost your body’s defence system. Have a good week!
There isn’t a day that goes by when you don’t hear about someone’s ailments. It seems that we are no longer prone to illness primarily during the winter months, but we’re vulnerable to sickness all year round.
I never knew of my grandparents, or even parents, to ever really be ill. It makes you wonder if we’re becoming more susceptible to illness with each generation, or if our modern lifestyle (and the consequences of it), plays a bigger role in our health than we’d like to admit? Personally, I’m more inclined to believe that our wonderful online world with 24/7 access to pretty much anything and everything might also be our downfall. Modern day developments have certainly brought us new opportunities and ways of doing things, but they have also brought with them unsustainable demands, higher expectations, less patience and almost no ‘down time’ to switch off.
Employment is often one of the most stressful areas of a person's life. Figures released by the Health and Safety Executive UK suggest that there were 488,000 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015/16 – that’s a rate of 1,510 per 100,000. This statistic only includes the recorded cases. I don’t doubt for a second that there are many more people who are ‘managing’ to live with high levels of stress due to work.
So, what does all this mean for our health? One thing you can be certain of is that excessive stress will always manifest itself and negatively impact on your physical and/or mental wellbeing. I don’t think I know of a single person who has not experienced the physical consequences of too much stress.
I noticed a change in my wellbeing when I was given a Blackberry by a company I used to work for in London. How fantastic, I thought, as I was told that I could now answer emails until 10pm at night from my US client. As for having weekends off, don’t be silly. And don’t think I wasn’t given a disapproving look for not checking my emails on my day off. The hindrance of being office-based during the standard working week (which was what I was paid to do) was now removed thanks to this palm-sized gadget, meaning I could work seven days a week. Perfect, just what I had always wanted. When my work-related stress levels were at their worst, I lost half a stone in a week and my entire back and chest were covered in eczema. As you can imagine, I felt pretty miserable.
Knowing the signs
In terms of knowing what to do to protect our health, the saying, “prevention is better than cure” springs to mind. Sadly, too many people let their stress levels get out of control to the point where they are forced to seek help. Early intervention helps to minimise the consequences of stress and reduce recovery time.
We all know the common signs of stress – anxiety, depression, migraines, high blood pressure, digestive issues such as diarrhoea or constipation, chest pains, insomnia, etc. But what about the more discreet symptoms? Here are five signs that might be telling you to take a break and reassess the state of your health.
1. Ongoing colds/illnesses
It might only be an annoying runny nose or tickly cough, but if a minor ailment continues for a prolonged period of time or reoccurs frequently, it could be a sign that your immune system is not as efficient as it could be. Our white blood cells (lymphocytes), which destroy harmful organisms that threaten the body, can become suppressed during periods of chronic (long term) stress, making us more prone to infection and disease.
2. Frequent urination
Have you ever emptied your bladder and then felt like you needed to do so again within minutes? There may be many reasons for this but stress can be one of them. When you’re stressed and the body senses a threat, you go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. In preparation for either response, the body tries to rid itself of waste to make you lighter and more prepared for either fighting or running away. Sometimes, the fight or flight response doesn’t switch off, and the body remains in a state of alert, causing the continuation of frequent urination.
Research published by the Ohio State University in 2016 found that chronic stress can result in forgetfulness. Research carried out on mice showed that when stressed, the immune system sent macrophages (immune cells) to the brain, causing inflammation. Fortunately, the mice recovered within 28 days once the stressor had been removed.
4. Slurred speech
When very stressed or anxious, your brain can struggle with coordination and cognitive processes. Slurred speech can be caused by poor memory recall – difficulty finding the words you want to say. Your brain has to work harder under stress, resulting in poor focus and execution.
Muscle spasms (twitching) can be caused by stress and is most noticeable around the eyes. It can last for short or long periods of time. If the cause of stress is identified and managed, the twitching should eventually stop on its own accord. I can personally relate to this symptom as sometimes my eyes will twitch uncontrollably when I’m feeling run down. It’s not helpful when you’re trying to concentrate!
Managing the symptoms of stress is achievable once the cause has been identified. It’s important to remember that any symptom of stress, as horrible as it is, is your body’s way of saying, “I can’t function properly in this current state.” Your body is remarkable in many ways and it’s important to tune in and listen to it.
Keep an eye out for my next post, which will feature stress-busting management techniques that you can incorporate into your daily life.
Inner Wellness Massage Blog
Welcome to my wellness blog! This is where I will share all things health and wellbeing. I hope to encourage others to prioritise their own health while I continuously work to better my own.
Disclaimer: the views and experiences shared are my own and information based on health-related topics has been researched. While this blog promotes and encourages a healthy lifestyle, I am not a doctor and the content is not intended as medical advice. Always seek help from a medical professional if you are concerned about your health.