Keeping your immune system healthy

Knock on wood, knock on wood, knock on wood… I haven’t been sick in over a year. I’m sort of scared to say that out loud because then a new strain of flu could develop in the Orient, swoop in on my body and everybody would say, “Ha! So you’re not immune!”. But I’ll knock on wood once more time and tell you about my year.

I didn’t catch any of the flus going around. There was in January that had everybody in bed with a high fever for several days. I kept training outdoors in rain and snow and felt fine. There was a crazy intestinal virus passed around in June. Lots of visits to the restroom, several times a day, if you get my drift. Plus, who wants to get the sick in the middle of summer? Depressing. Anyway, didn’t get that one either.

Even though I jumped into the Ionian sea on New Year’s Day, ran and biked for miles and miles, trained for and completed two marathons, raced two half Ironmans (Ironmen?) and then the full one in July, I did not have one sniffle, stuffed nose or scratchy throat.


I don’t do anything special to keep my immune system intact. I don’t take supplements on a regular basis or drink green smoothies. But if I examine a few of my habits I’m absolutely positive that they boost my immune system and allow me to stay healthy all year long.

The thermostat in our house is kept on “low”.

It’s November and I still haven’t turned the heat on. We use a dehumidifier to take the humidity out of the air but for the last month our home temperature has been about 65°f. We’re not cold but we do wear thick socks at night. As soon as the temperatures drop again I’ll be turning on the gas to take the edge off,  but this is actually a comfortable temperature for all of us. I haven’t seen any articles proving that this is good for the immune system, but I believe that by not having a drastic indoor/outdoor temperature difference forces my body to adapt and keep my metabolism working properly.

We have a good family nutrition plan.

It’s not perfect and we could even improve on it, but on most days I cook everything fresh from scratch and serve raw vegetables with family meals. Even my kids have latched on to the Once A Week Treat idea so there’s less sugar in the house.

We go to bed early once a week.

“Early” in Italy is 8:30PM, considering that’s the time most Italians sit down to dinner. Every Wednesday we dine an hour earlier, leave the television off and get into bed with a book. It usually not long before I feel sleepy and turn the lights out to a dreamy state for the night.

I take a nap when I need it.

By “nap” I mean a quick snooze, no longer than thirty minutes. Even twenty minutes can do the trick. I have a precise method of taking my right arm and lying it across my eyes so it blocks out all the light. I set a countdown alarm on my iPhone for the desired time (depending on how much time I have and how much rest I need). If I really need the rest, as I close my eyes I’ll feel my head get slightly dizzy while I fall into a black space. I’ve gotten good at doing this anywhere. Home is of course the easiest place but I’ve been known to stop my car, pull over to a safe spot and lock myself in for a quick twenty minutes. I wake up refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the afternoon.

I take a day off when I feel “off”.

I’m pretty in tune with my body so I can feel when I’m a little tired or not eating properly, as opposed to something being off-kilter in my body. When I have that, “something is happening here…” feeling the first thing I do is take any planned physical activities off my calendar for the next few days. Most athletes plod through a workout no matter what, especially when they have an important event coming up. Instead I’ve found that it’s better for me to show up healthy to an event with missed workouts, rather than sick but having done them all. Then I go to bed early for a few nights in a row to rest my body and my help immune system to deal with whatever is circulating.

  1. helen
    Thanks for posting this. It helps make me feel less 'lazy' about giving myself time off when I'm exhausted, taking a quick nap, or going to bed early. I need to improve on nutrition though - like many people. Hope you keep on keeping well!
  2. PaulaG
    I like the idea of one night without TV - going to try this :-)