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Are you fighting fit?

health-and-fitness Updated: Jun 20, 2009 22:23 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The swine flu virus is out there, and most of us are at a loss at how to protect ourselves. Do we stop shaking hands with frequent flyers, scurry away whenever someone sneezes, or worse, wear face masks and disinfect our hands every two seconds in the hope that we get the virus before it gets us?

All this may sound paranoid, but India is getting there. With swine flu cases shooting up each day, it would not hurt to be a little careful. No, facemasks and antiseptic wipes are unnecessary, but shunning someone who develops a cough after a long-haul flight may be a good idea.

But if that coughing someone is your boss who insists he doesn’t have the flu, you have two options: to report the boss to health authorities or keep all communication strictly online while working on keeping your immunity fighting fit.

If you choose the latter, here’s how to go about boosting the body’s natural immunity. Begin with some sort of exercise plan. Moderate exercise — 100 steps per minute, or 3,000 steps in 30 minutes five times a week — scan help your immune system run like clockwork.

Apart from lowering the risk of heart diseases, osteoporosis and certain cancers, moderate-intensity exercise lowers the body’s vulnerability to harmful bacteria and viruses. This happens in many ways. First, regular physical activity rids the lungs of some airborne bacteria and viruses that are linked to common upper respiratory tract infections. Exercise also boosts the production of macrophagus, the cells that fight bacteria. Increased blood flow help circulate antibodies and white blood cells that fight infection, but simultaneously lowers the secretion of stress-related hormones that suppress immune function.

The next step is checking your diet. “Most people eat on the run and do not get enough proteins found in meats and legumes, B-complex vitamins found in yeast, liver, meats, cereals and nuts, and anti-oxidant rich fresh fruits and vegetables. Eating out too much also results in having poor quality fats, found in baked and fried foods. You have to compensate by making your home meal healthy,” says nutritionist Ishi Khosla, director, Wholefoods.

The following five superfoods will help you boost your immunity, naturally.

Curd

Natural probiotics found in yoghurt maintains gut health by restoring the balance of beneficial bacteria needed for optimal nutrient absorption. Supplements, such as Mother Dairy’s probiotic dahi or Yakult’s fermented drink, also work. So, a bowl of yoghurt or a pro-biotic drink a day will keep you fit.

The meats and more

Meat and shellfish like oysters are loaded with zinc, which is needed to develop white blood cells that fight invading bacteria and viruses. Vegetarians should get their zinc supply from yoghurt and milk. Meats are also a loaded with iron — vegetarian sources are green, leafy vegetables, lentils and kidney beans —needed to fight infection. Since zinc may limit the absorption of iron, increase consumption of iron-rich foods so the one nutrient doesn’t nullify the benefits of the other. Healthy people could eat red meat twice a week or poultry thrice a week.

Vitamins A and C

Vitamin A is found in all foods coloured red, orange and yellow, such as mangoes, papaya, pumpkin, carrots and sweet potatoes. “Vitamin A deficiency can lead to damage in the mucosal linings of the respiratory, gastrointestinal and genitourinary tracts, which are the body’s first defense against bacteria and viruses,” says Parmeet Kaur, chief dietitian, All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Get your Vitamin C (a known immunity booster) from citrus fruits like lemons, oranges and mangoes. All you need is a mango/ papaya and a fresh lime a day.

Fish and shellfish

Selenium, found in oysters, lobsters, crabs, and clams, helps white blood cells produce a protein — called cytokines — that helps clear flu viruses out of the body. Fish oils have omega-3 fats, that lower inflammation and protecting the respiratory tract and lungs from infections. “Fish oils are a must, as is replacing poly-saturated refined fats (such as kardi and sunflower oils) with mustard and soya oils and eat nuts and seeds to get good fats,” says Khosla. Eat fish or shellfish twice a week (unless you’re pregnant or planning to be).

Garlic

Garlic contains allicin, ajoene and thiosulfinates, that fight infection, with one British study reporting that it lowers risk of viral infection by two-thirds! Garlic also protects against colorectal and stomach cancers. Add two pieces of crushed garlic to cooked food every day.