Winter Travel Immunity Tips
By Dr. Tim Fargo, Chiropractor
Have you ever wondered why winter is known to be “cold and flu season”? What is it about winter that makes us susceptible to colds, flu, and now COVID-19? There are no precise answers to these questions, but much sensible speculation as to why we, as a population, are more likely to get sick in the wintertime. When that general wintertime tendency has travel mixed in, then we have a recipe for viral disaster.
Some of the reasons we tend to be more prone to getting sick in the wintertime include the following:
- Too much time being cooped up indoors with other humans. The simple fact of close proximity increases the likelihood of community spread, particularly of airborne viruses. For example, all summer long kids are playing outside, and then, all of a sudden, they are cooped up in classrooms together.
- Too little exposure to sunlight and fresh air. A surefire antidote to viral spread is good ventilation. Another factor is the impact that ultraviolet light has on immune function. Ultraviolet exposure, as from sunshine on your skin, causes your body to produce vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is a critical component for proper immune function. It should be noted that, particularly in a northern climate, many of us are vitamin D deficient and need to supplement. The reason for this deficiency is that wintertime sun exposure is generally insufficient for adequate production of vitamin D and, even in the summertime, most of us are now wearing sunscreen which also reduces our vitamin D production. If you have questions about your vitamin D status, a simple blood test can tell you where you stand.
- I don’t know about you, but I generally find winter to be a little bit more stressful because I’m doing less fun stuff outside. It is a well-known fact that higher levels of stress equate with lower immune function.
- In addition to the impact of decreased sun exposure on vitamin D status, we simply have fewer hours of sunlight during the day. Many of us go to work when it is still dark and return after dark. The fact that our lives are no longer well synchronized with the daylight/darkness cycle also adds additional stress. In simpler times, humans didn’t hibernate, but, lacking electric lights and easy illumination, they tended to gear their lives to the shortened daylight hours. Many are so affected by the shorter daylight hours that they suffer from some variant of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a mix of fatigue and depression related to a lack of sun exposure.
With all of the above factors in the mix, here are some tips to help you stay healthy during your winter travels.
- Boost your vitamin D3 intake to a minimum of 5000 units per day. While vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and, as such, has some potential for toxicity at high sustained dosages, anyone can safely take 5000 units per day.
- While we are on the subject of supplementation, I would also strongly recommend that you take good quality multiple vitamins, extra vitamin C (a minimum of 1000 mg per day), zinc, fish oils, and a high-quality probiotic.
- My next recommendation might be either controversial or offend the sensibilities of some. Nonetheless, I would suggest, if you are flying somewhere for a winter vacation, that you wear a mask on the plane. The current COVID variant (omicron) is highly contagious and masks, though imperfect, can still afford some level of protection. If you are going to wear a mask, then do it right and wear either an N95 or a KN95. At this stage of the game, we are no longer wearing masks to please the authorities, rather we are wearing them under certain circumstances to protect ourselves and others. International travel still requires that you show a negative COVID test prior to boarding a plane or ship. You may want to consider wearing a mask in a week or two prior to your trip. There’s nothing worse than spending weeks or months anticipating a trip only to have it aborted at the last minute by a positive COVID test.
- On a related note, I think by now it should be obvious that keeping your hands clean and keeping them out of your eyes, nose, and mouth is critically important.
- In the week preceding your winter travel try to get extra sleep. There is no better way to fortify your immune system than by having adequate sleep. Most of us have had the experience where we worked hard right up until the last minute before our vacation, became sleep deprived, and then promptly got sick just in time to go on vacation.
- Even though it is cold outside in Minnesota, try to spend some time outdoors every day, even if it is just walking the dog for 20 minutes. The fresh air and a little sunlight will do you good.
- If you are a person who is susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, having a “happy” light can be very helpful. Even 15 minutes a day in front of a full-spectrum light can help you feel better and boost your immunity.
- Another general recommendation is to make sure that you stay hydrated and that, particularly before and while traveling, you keep your sugar intake down and consume lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, and lean protein.
Of course, there is no guarantee that doing some or all of the above will prevent you from getting sick this season, but every little action that you take to boost your general health makes it easier for your immune system to fight off viruses and other disease-causing organisms and circumstances. I hope you find this helpful.