Flu season is upon us now. Since athletes are often around many other people when training or playing, they are more likely to be exposed to infection or virus. It’s crucial for athletes to stay healthy during the winter months because they can’t afford to take time off and fall behind.
We advise athletes to be hyper vigilant when it comes to prevention strategies. We also have some tips on how to stay healthy and how to bounce back quickly if needed.
Tips to boost the immune system:
- Consistently sleep for 7-9 hours every night.
- Maintain optimal nutrition.
- Practice recovery post-play to minimize immune system exhaustion.
- Practice breathwork daily to keep the respiratory muscles in shape.
You hear it often as an athlete, you need adequate sleep. This can be hard when you’re staying up late for finals or working full time then have to be up at the crack of dawn for your first training session. The holidays also call for late nights, making it more difficult to wind down. But it’s true. Not only do you need adequate sleep, failure to rest can result in a compromised immune system. Studies show that athletes who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick. That’s why you always hear your doctor telling you to rest up after an injury or illness.
According to the Mayo Clinic, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, during sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you’re under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep. When your body is at rest that is when your muscles grow and you actually reap the benefits of training. So aside from preventing illness, sleep can help you get the gains you’re shooting for much quicker.
Ignoring your nutrition during the holidays can be really easy. There are so many temptations with parties, gifts, abnormal schedules, sweets and just a smorgasbord of options during this time. As a training athlete you are hungry, no doubt. Just as it should be. Don’t ignore your hunger cues. Continue to eat just as you would throughout the rest of the year. You need fuel. In fact, ensuring adequate carbohydrate intake during training can help your immune system to stay resilient. Stick to your normal macros. Make sure you’re getting adequate protein and fat as well. Need a treat? Indulge. But, then re-focus on the larger picture and stick to what fuels you. Always keep the end goal in mind.
Keeping a consistent yoga practice can aid the immune system. According to the Yoga Journal, yoga helps lower stress hormones that compromise the immune system, while also conditioning the lungs and respiratory tract, stimulating the lymphatic system to oust toxins from the body, and bringing oxygenated blood to the various organs to ensure their optimal function. This is why adding a quick recovery yoga class after training can really take your gains to the next level and support your immune system along the way.
For example, a simple downward facing dog can encourage blood flow to the sinuses, easing congestion. Most forward folds can help to prevent complications of infections by draining the lungs. Some research even suggests that Camel, Cobra, and Child’s pose can open the chest cavity to help prevent pneumonia. Keep in mind these tools are preventative. Should you come down with a virus like the flu, rest is always best and make sure you follow your doctor’s orders.
Breathwork can be a fantastic tool for maintaining proper respiratory function. Since colds and the flu attack the bronchial passages, conditioning the lungs will no doubt build resistance to virus or illness. A recent article published by the Yoga Journal states Kraftsow, in his recent book Yoga for Wellness (Penguin, 1999), explains that cold and flu infections, allergies, asthma, and other chronic respiratory conditions are “directly linked to a weakened immune response” due to “disturbed, irregular habits of breathing.”
Knowing this, we can tackle bad breathing habits with intentional breathwork practices. Performance breathwork helps expand the lungs and increase oxygen efficiency, absorption, and supply. It also strengthens the muscles of the chest cavity, improves digestion and quality of sleep, and strengthens the immune system by reducing stress.
On-Demand Immune Boosters
Athletes can boost their immune systems this winter by incorporating on-demand Yoga Recovery and Breathwork into their routine. They can just log in and work in recovery whenever it’s most convenient for them. This means they can stay consistent even if they are traveling for the holidays!
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- Mayo Clinic:
- Yoga Journal: