Mental health at home: Health boosters for body and mind
Now more than ever boosting our immune system is extremely important, but beyond eating oranges and washing our hands, what else can we do?
“The day-to-day choices you make influence whether you maintain vitality as you age or develop illnesses,” explains Holly Huntley, Nutritionist and Herbal Specialist.
“During the change in seasons, our body can be challenged by potentially harmful bacteria or viruses which can cause infections and illnesses. Whilst our immune system is designed to fight off these invaders it can be helpful to support it and ensure we are as robust as possible, particularly when infections are active in the community.”
While there is no cure for the common cold and flu, there are some sensible steps that you can take to help support your natural defences. Follow Holly’s simple lifestyle tips that can help to boost your immune system, prevent colds and flus and can all be done from the comfort of your own home:
“Along with helping you relax, feel energised and clearing stagnant lymph and toxins, massage is good for immunity. Massage actually decreases cortisol and increases serotonin levels, plus it’s really easy to do at home.”
Not sure where to start? “Use a warmed oil if possible – even if you just warm it up in your hands,
this is better than straight out of the bottle. My favourite is sesame oil or Pukka’s Organic Castor Oil. Massage the oil into your body, working it deeply into the skin.”
Incorporate powerful plants
Echinacea is one of the most recommended herbal remedies for colds and flu. In fact, plants have lots of powerful properties, even if you may not know about them. “Andrographis is an extremely powerful plant and has been traditionally used to promote the production of antibodies and reduce the severity of infection,” Holly says. “Andrographis contains compounds that rally the immune system to fight effectively against foreign substances. Pukka also worked with the University of Southampton on a clinical trial to prescribe andrographis to NHS patients in 20 GP surgeries across the UK to soothe symptoms of respiratory tract infections.”
Expressing your emotions
“This might seem like a funny one but expressing your emotions either verbally or through writing can have a positive influence on the way we feel about ourselves. When we express our feelings honestly, we are better equipped to deal with them as we know what we are feeling instead of denying them. This is important as poor emotional health can weaken the body’s immune system.”
Painting, drawing, knitting, reading and cooking all offer ways to switch off and unwind as we enter a state of creative flow. This flow state is also known as ‘being in the zone’ where you’re fully immersed in an activity and forgot about any internal worries, fears or frustrations. These activities promote alpha waves in the brain associated with rest and relaxation.
Focus on gut health
“Now more than ever we understand the extent to which our gut health affects our overall immune function. The stress of modern life, diets high in processed foods and the regular use of antibiotics have left many of us with guts that function far from optimally.”
Holly suggests adding pre and probiotics to your daily routine. “Probiotics reintroduce friendly bacteria to the gut and can be found in fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut. Whilst prebiotics pass through the digestive tract undigested and feed the good bacteria already in your gut. Foods such as Jerusalem artichokes, chickpeas and lentils are great additions to your daily diet.”
Limit fast food
With many people now working from home, it can often be tempting to order a Deliveroo or pop a meal in the microwave in favour of convenience, particularly if you’re feeling under the weather. But, Holly explains, fast, processed foods aren’t supporting our immune systems at all.
“Researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany have found that an unhealthy diet can cause the immune system to act as if it is responding to bacterial infections.” So, the next time you reach for the take-out menu if you’re feeling under the weather think again about what simple – and nutritious – options you may already have in your house.
The beginnings of Yoga were developed in Northern India over 5,000 years ago, and it appears they were onto something.
“From increased strength and flexibility to stress relief and heart health, there are plenty of reasons to practice yoga. In fact, studies show that the benefits of regular yoga practice are invaluable to a healthy immune system.”
If you’re new to yoga, fear not. “Like the exercise community, online yoga videos are really easy to find. One of my favourites is Yoga with Adriene, her videos are really accessible and great for beginners.”
Try sitting in a traditional pose for meditation, lengthen the spine, relax and breathe deeply for at least 10 breaths. Spinal twists and forward folds are great poses to nourish internal organs and boosts energy levels when you feel a bit depleted.
“Practicing mindfulness and meditation may help you manage stress and high blood pressure, improve sleep quality and enable you to feel more balanced and connected,” explains Holly. “When you’re constantly under stress, your adrenal glands overproduce the hormone cortisol. Overexposure to this hormone can affect the function of your brain, immune system and other organs.”
Meditation comes in various forms so it’s important to find what works best for you.
Holly says, “If you’re not sure how to get started, apps such as Calm or Headspace have lots of guided meditations to choose from and they can all be practiced at home when you have a spare few minutes to help relieve stress and anxiety.”
Meditation has been scientifically proven to help alleviate stress after eight weeks of regular practice. Consistent daily practice is key to help reprogram the mind to be able to cope better with life’s stressors. Implementing a mindful practice into your daily routine can offer a moment to simply pause and soften anxiety.