Most adults experience an average of two to four colds a year whereas children can experience up to nine. And with more than 200 viruses known to cause a cold it is hardly surprising it makes a return year on year.
Here are some immune-strengthening tips to help boost your children’s defences this winter:
1. Encourage handwashing.
Germs on children’s hands can be easily passed to others by direct touch or indirectly by touching contaminated objects. Once on the hands they are easily transferred to the mouth and this is how many infections are spread. It is therefore important to encourage children to wash their hands regularly and thoroughly, especially after every visit to the toilet and prior to eating or preparing food. They can pick up cold germs easily even when joining hands or touching doornobs or handrails. It is recommended that they spend at least 15 seconds (about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice ) washing their hands properly.
2. Boost their EFAs.
Essential fatty acids are required for the normal functioning of lymphocytes (white blood cells ), according to experts. Research has demonstrated that children with a history of recurrent respiratory infections fare better when taking supplements of EFAs. Excellent food sources include oily fish and flax seed oil. Neither is the easiest of foods to get past your average five year-old, in which case a fish or flax oil supplement may be an easier alternative.
3. Cultivate gut bacteria.
A good probiotic formula may also help strengthen your child’s immune system. This is especially worth bearing in mind if your child has recently finished a course of antibiotics. As well as fighting bad bacteria they also destroy good bacteria in the gut.
4. Incorporate vitamin C in their diet.
When it comes to immune health vitamin C is important and the good news is there are plenty of delicious ways to incorporate it into your child’s diet. Excellent food sources include the usual suspects: oranges, broccoli and other green vegetables. Kiwi fruit and strawberries are also great sources. If they will not eat them whole you can always blend them into a delicious fruit smoothie.
5. Ensure they get sufficient sleep. It is essential for good health because it helps recharge their batteries. Their body’s repair system is in full swing when they are asleep. If they do not get enough sleep it does not have the opportunity to keep itself healthy.
Aim to get them to bed and get them up at the same time each day. If they find it hard to settle down get them into the habit of winding down with a bath, relaxing music and hot drink. Ensure their bedroom is quiet, dark and comfortable and that it is neither too hot nor too cold.
6. If they sneeze or cough encourage them to do so into a tissue and then throw it away. Advise them not to touch their nose, eyes or mouth. Germs can enter their bodies easily by these paths.
7. Embrace a healthy diet. Provide them with a variety of wholegrain cereals such as oats, brown rice, wholemeal bread, corn and wholemeal pasta; a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables such as those high in vitamin C like broccoli, citrus fruits and strawberries; good protein foods like eggs, nuts and seeds, red meat, chicken and fish; and healthy fats such as those found in oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds and olive oil.
If children are fussy eaters, it can be difficult to ensure they have all their nutritional requirements met through diet alone. A good vitamin supplement may be necessary at these times, especially during winter when a child is more likely to get an infection.
8. Make sure they eat breakfast. It has many benefits. It provides children with the energy and essential nutrients they need to concentrate on school work and learn. Studies show that breakfast provides as much as 25 per cent of the recommended daily allowance for key nutrients, such as calcium, protein, vitamins A and B6, magnesium, iron and zinc.
Research indicates that children who eat breakfast have higher achievement scores, lower rates of absence, and increased concentration in the classroom.
9. Encourage them to wrap up if they are cold. But remember to open windows a little because the cold virus breeds in unventilated environments.
10. Make sure they keep fit. The role of exercise in the prevention of disease has been the subject of much discussion over the years. Most experts now agree that people who exercise regularly have raised levels of infection-fighting cells in their blood. Studies have linked a healthy immune system with moderate exercise, whether it’s a quick walk or bike ride outside or a more organised sport after school.
A regular exercise routine - a walk in the park/a game of football/or a game of tig in the garden may get them through the winter without a sniffle. Exercising as a family and limiting the amount of time your children spend in front of the television or playing their X Box or Playstation is a good place to start when trying to establish an exercise routine for kids.
11. Try to replace junk foods with healthier alternatives, such as fruit and vegetables. Many are packed with antioxidants and vitamin C, both of which help boost the immune system. Begin by gradually reducing the number of unhealthy treats in the house and and replacing them with handy, tasty snacks, such as yoghurts, raisins, fruit. Cook meals with immune-boosting vegetables, such as broccoli and sweet potatoes. Rotate foods and experiment with new ones. This means more nutrients for the body and may help prevent food allergies or intolerances developing.