Thinking Outside The Tissue Box For Cold And Flu Season

What if the secret to staying well this cold and flu season were to view life as one big video game?

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What if life were one big video game? Let me rephrase that: What if the secret to achieving peak health, wellness, and happiness were to view life as one big video game? When I first started writing this article, I wrote nearly 400 words debunking the myth that any food or nutrient could “boost” the immune system. I laughed it off as likening a glass of vitamin C–rich orange juice to a power pack in a video game: Your avatar lights up in multicolor, a fun little sound effect plays, and suddenly you’re invincible for a short period. It doesn’t work like that. Your immune system will not instantly respond to one dose of a healthy food. If you’re waiting until flu season to arm your immune system, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re doing it wrong. The more I read and the more I thought about this topic, though, the more I realized that it’s not that far off from a video game, after all. (This might be a good time to mention that I am flat-out miserable at video games; my boyfriend will back me up on this one. Don’t worry if you’re not a gamer! I’m right there with you. We can still benefit from this concept.) There are scientists who have started creating wellness programs based on looking at life like one big video game. Choose a goal or mission, arm yourself with allies, avoid the obstacles or bad guys that slow you down, and seek out the power packs that boost you up. Are you ready to play? In three…two…one…

Your Mission

Strengthen your immune system.

Arm yourself with allies.

Normally, I’d suggest thinking of allies as social support, but for this mission they will be nutrients from foods that help your immune system.

  • Foods that contribute probiotics: yogurt with live and active cultures, kefir, kvass, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, fermented or aged cheeses like Gouda and Gruyere, and sourdough
  • Prebiotics, which can be found in bananas, oats, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes (“sunchokes”) and legumes
  • Antioxidants from foods rich in vitamin C (citrus, leafy greens, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, papaya), vitamin E (nuts, seeds, spinach, broccoli), and vitamin A (carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cantaloupe, squash)
  • Minerals like zinc (beans, shellfish, poultry) and selenium (Brazil nuts, barley, sardines, tuna, garlic)

Noticing a trend? A lot of these foods are fruits and vegetables, and all of them are minimally processed, whole foods. The more of these we eat, the healthier we are.

Avoid the obstacles or “bad guys.”

These are things that can actually hurt your immune system and make it harder for your body to fight off illness:

  • Smoking (or exposure to secondhand smoke)
  • Alcohol
  • Excess weight
  • Overuse or misuse of antibiotics
  • Inactivity
  • Lack of sleep
  • High blood pressure
  • Stress
  • The typical American diet (which is basically low in “allies” from above and high in refined sugar and inflammatory fats)

This is not necessarily an all-or-nothing approach. Work on gradually distancing yourself from these “bad guys,” tackling one or two at a time to keep things manageable. Each one that you conquer will leave you stronger.

Seek out power packs or “boosts.”

For this mission, boosts are activities that make it easier for your body to fight off illness. Some of these activities are simply the opposite of the obstacles above, so by avoiding the “bad guys,” you can collect little boosts along the way, too!

  • Maintaining a healthy (for you!) weight
  • Eating foods that supply plenty of “ally” nutrients from above
  • Getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night
  • Washing your hands with plain soap and water (none of that antibacterial stuff if you can avoid it)
  • Staying up to date on vaccinations and regular checkups
  • Exercising or at the very least sitting less
  • Finding ways to chill out
  • Trying a new approach to unavoidable stress

The term “immune booster” used to make me cringe, and to some extent, it still does. But even if one single dose of a nutrient or minute spent engaging in a particular activity can’t give you an immediate surge of resilience the way it might in an actual game, there’s something to be said for this approach. Home in on your mission. Arm yourself with trustworthy allies. Skirt the clutches of the bad guys to avoid damage. Seek out power packs to recharge your health as often as possible. What if the secret to achieve peak health, wellness, and happiness really is to view life as one big video game?

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