With winter comes coughs and colds, and schools and childcare centres become over-run with sneezy, wheezy, snotty, grotty little people. Following are some simple strategies that you can implement to give your child the best chance of building up their immune system.
Part 1: The basics
The building blocks of a resilient immune system are fresh food, fresh air, good sleep, plenty of movement, and plenty of rest.
Most of us are aware that what we put into our bodies has long-reaching effects on our health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally. The majority of your child’s diet should consist of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, meat, fish and eggs. Set them up with healthy habits and teach them that food comes from the land and sea, not from packets!
Get outside and get active
As well as the obvious benefits of getting away from screens and out into the fresh air, activities that encourage whole-body movement stimulate the circulation of lymph. This is a key part of immune function, transporting infection-fighting chemicals around the body.
Often it is us, the parents, who are resistant to getting outside on a cold day – most kids love to run around whatever the weather. Try to get them to dress appropriately, then set them free in the back yard, take them to a favourite playground, introduce them to a new playground, go for a beach walk or a bush walk, try a nature scavenger hunt, or even just ride bikes or scooters around the block. Nature Play WA has some great ideas to get you started.
If you are finding it hard to fit in some time outside due to work/school/childcare commitments, consider a walk around the neighbourhood before breakfast or after dinner. This has the added benefit of regulating the circadian rhythm – our internal clock that influences many functions in our body, including hormone levels and components of the immune system.
Give your kids a good night’s sleep
Good sleep habits aren’t just for babies, but are vitally important right throughout childhood and beyond. Disrupted or insufficient sleep has been shown to have negative effects on the immune system, changing the delicate balance of cells that protect us from infection and allergy. Research highlights the impact of prolonged sleep disturbance in adults, including increased risk of heart disease, some kinds of cancer, obesity, diabetes, an depression. Sleep issues are complex and multi-factorial, but late nights, early starts and interrupted sleep can all add up so a simple place to start is to set a regular, age-appropriate bedtime and stick to it.
Find time for rest
Often our kids are over scheduled from a very young age, going from ballet to swimming to a play date to music lesson to art class… and then coming home tired and over stimulated and very very cranky. Children need time to be bored. They need time to switch off and potter around and make up their own games. Most importantly, they need time to rest and recover. Consider swapping some activities for free, unstructured time. If your child shows signs of getting sick, dial down the stimulation for a couple of days and give them a chance to fight it off before it takes hold.
Implementing the basics will help increase your child’s resilience and bolster their immune system against the onslaught of winter coughs and sniffles. In Part 2, we will look in more depth at specific foods you can include in your child’s diet to supercharge their immune health.