You may have noticed that illnesses spread fast at Hopkins. For the past few weeks, classes have been filled with the sounds of sniffling, sneezing and coughing — no one, it seems, is safe. I, myself, am feeling under the weather at this very moment.
With the stress of school and the tendency that college students have toward eating poorly and not sleeping, it’s not surprising that so many of us are falling prey to whatever new strain of the cold virus has been lurking on campus this month. There are ways that we can attempt to protect ourselves, however, and as we move into the cooler months, the need to bolster our immune systems will only grow.
Since my main focus in this column is food, that’s what I’m going to spend time on first: foods that boost the immune system. As most people know, vitamin C is important for immune health, as is zinc. You can find vitamin C lozenges in most stores, and zinc lozenges are a little less common but still existent.
Some people take these when they first begin experiencing cold symptoms in order to shorten the illness. Other people take vitamin supplements regularly in order to increase immunity. But there are also many zinc- and vitamin C-rich foods that you can eat in your daily life to help keep your immune system in tip-top shape.
We all know that citrus fruits such as oranges have a lot of vitamin C, but did you know that there are other foods that have more? Raspberries are actually a better source of vitamin C than most citrus fruits, and one serving of broccoli has more than the daily serving of vitamin C that we need. Red and green peppers, potatoes, kiwi and tomatoes are among other foods that help with immune health.
Zinc, on the other hand, is found less in fruits and vegetables than in meat and nuts. Lamb and beef are good sources of zinc, and cashews and almonds contain a decent supply. Other foods that you may want to include in your diet, if possible, are yogurt (which has probiotics that maintain a healthy gut and inhibit the growth of illnesses) as well as fish, garlic, tea and yams.
To prevent and lessen the symptoms of illnesses, sleep is essential. If you are lacking sleep, your immune system will weaken, leaving you more susceptible to catching whatever happens to be going around. As college students, getting enough sleep can be difficult, and it may feel like it’s impossible to prioritize sleep over studying if you happen to be someone who can function well enough on only a couple hours a night.
If sleep really is a problem for you, try to at least get yourself on some sort of schedule. Even if you don’t sleep for the full 8-10 hours that you should, attempt to have a set bedtime and waking time everyday — or for as many days of the week as possible. This is not easy, but having a regulated sleep pattern will improve your health and energy over time and may allow you to sleep better, which in turn will help you stave off illnesses that you might otherwise catch.
And if you’re already sick, I’m sure you know that sleep is essential to healing. Hop to it.
Lastly, exercise. I know it’s not the easiest thing to do, especially when you don’t already have a set exercise schedule or don’t have time. I’m not someone who is capable of doing intense exercise very often for various reasons, but a workout doesn’t have to be long or intense to be worthwhile! Put your earbuds in and go for a walk through campus, do some stationary stretches, set aside time during which you can do a few sit ups or push ups if possible.
One app that I like to use for working out is SworkIt, because you can work out for as long or as briefly as you want, and it offers multiple workout options such as cardio, strength, yoga and stretching. Even if you can only manage five minutes a day, everything you do counts.
Exercising while you are sick can also be helpful, believe it or not — especially if you feel an illness coming on. If you’re laid up in bed with a fever, rest is your best option; stick with that.
Stay healthy everyone!