Colds, flu, and other respiratory illnesses are more common in the winter months. The cause is multi-factorial and includes people being indoors more often which allows viruses to pass more easily from one person to another.
Our immune system consists of two components that help fight disease: the innate system and the adaptive or acquired system. The innate system is the system we are born with. It responds essentially the same way to all pathogens. If the innate system is not able to take care of the invader, the adaptive system kicks in. The adaptive system develops antibodies that can destroy a specific pathogen. During subsequent exposures, the antibodies can rapidly respond and defend the body against the pathogen. Antibodies stay in the body for at least 6 to 8 months and up to a lifetime. The length of antibody immunity varies based on the nature of the pathogen and the number of antibodies produced. Some viruses like influenza mutate easily into a pathogen our immune system is not able to recognize. Other viruses like polio are not able to mutate easily. In the case of polio, exposure to the virus either through illness or vaccination, results in lifelong immunity.
We can boost our immune system by eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables and lean protein, exercising daily, sleeping 7-9 hours each day, minimize stress, staying up to date on vaccinations, and drinking enough water. Maintaining social connections, being out in nature, washing hands, disinfecting surfaces, and cooking and storing foods safely are also ways to either boost or protect our immune system. As an added bonus, these healthy lifestyle habits can decrease risk of certain health conditions including high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and diabetes.