We all know at least one – the friend who never cries off with a cold, who boasts about their robust immune system, and hasn’t taken a sick day in…ever. But how do they do it?
Words by Rosie Benson
Did you know that you will get around 200 colds in your lifetime? This explains why at this time of year UK office workers become obsessed with cold remedies and cures from downing vitamin C and Echinacea to hot lemon ginger tea (preferably with honey, right?).
But while most of us sit hunched, shivering, into our woolly jumpers, there are some who seem to breeze through winter unscathed, rocking up to work in cropped trousers and a paper-thin shirt in the middle of January.
We asked for their health secrets:
‘I’ve never had the flu. I sometimes get a mild cold during the winter but nothing very serious. I’ve never taken a day off work for being ill and I think I only took one or two days back at school. My mum is quite similar to me and doesn’t get ill very often, but my sister gets sick all the time and it was the same when she was at school. I’m not really sure what my secret is as I don’t see myself as having a hugely healthy lifestyle. I try to drink lots of water. I also have a theory that it’s to do with the horrible habit of biting my nails – although my boyfriend says that is a ridiculous argument! It’s also possibly to do with mindset – I’ve never liked missing school or work.’
Nina, 27, a primary school teacher from Buckinghamshire
‘I never get sick. I think I’ve taken one sick day in my career and that was the day after returning from Mexico…I won’t go into detail. I think my secret is that I exercise a lot (running, swimming, cycling). I am often outside facing the elements – probably touching various things and strengthening my immune system.’
Tom, 26, a PR consultant originally from Melbourne
‘As a child I never really had sick days that I can remember. I found out I had glandular fever and I felt fine – I know a lot of people who had it who took a lot of time off school, but I didn’t need to take any days off. I also had a similar experience with tonsillitis – maybe I do get ill but I’m just less dramatic about it! My friend is obsessive about cleanliness and is always unwell. If there was anything going round, she would catch it. I always say that because I am the opposite and never really worry about germs that I have built up a strong immune system. I also eat a ton of veggies and drink pints of hot water with lemon. That always makes me feel pretty fit and healthy.’
Siobhan, 26, a clothing designer from Hertfordshire
So what are the secrets of these apparent super-humans? Are they really more immune than the rest of us? Or is it all in the mind?
Unfortunately there is no evidence, or research, on why some of us appear to suffer sickness more than others. The medical community is also extremely sceptical about so-called super-immunity. ‘It’s pretty much hearsay and self-reporting,’ Dr. Natalie Riddell, a lecturer in immunology, told the The Guardian. ‘I need more evidence before I can believe these people really exist.’
However, Dr. Riddell does acknowledge that lifestyle plays a significant part in the functioning of our immune response, saying ‘it’s not solely governed by genetics,’ and cites stress as one of the key influencers on our immune systems.
In order to help you combat the cold, we’ve listed the small lifestyle changes you can make this winter to set you up for success:
Always wash your hands
This is important in combating the spread of germs, however it’s not the only factor – most infections are passed on through proximity alone, so beware the sneezing commuter
Stay on top of stress
Chronic long-term stress produces cortisol, which suppresses the immune system and weakens your natural defences, so keep practising that mindfulness, yoga, or whatever works for you, to keep your stress levels down and your body virus-free
Drink in moderation
A 2015 study by the journal Alcohol found that just one night of binge drinking affects the immune system, and it can happen within 20 minutes of ingesting alcohol, so avoid alcoholic benders to keep your immune system functioning at optimum level
It’s important to get NHS-recommended vaccinations to keep illness at bay, particularly at times when your immune system is suppressed, such as during pregnancy. If you’re pregnant throughout the winter months, you should be offered a flu vaccination on the NHS
It’s a cliché but it’s true – regular exercise, which improves circulation, has been shown to boost immunity. However, moderation and rest are just as important – meaning you’ve earned that 30 minute nap after your gym work out
There is evidence that our gut microbiome (the range and quantity of microbes in our gut) impacts the immune system. Although the extent and intricacies of the relationship isn’t fully known, it’s worth giving yourself a fighting chance by following a varied and healthy diet
Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep has a huge impact on the immune system; a lack of sleep disturbs our circadian rhythms, throwing out our immune system and leaving us more vulnerable to infection
No one is healthy for the entirety of their lives – there will be times when you do feel under the weather, even if they are few and far between
Don’t forget to have fun
According to GP Ann Robinson, loneliness is ‘the enemy of wellbeing,’ which sounds to us like doctor’s orders to go out and enjoy ourselves despite this cold weather. Hooray!