Posted Pamela Young on 1/23/2015 |Wellness Tips
In the thick of cold and flu season, many of us are breaking out the heavy-duty vitamins and over-the-counter products that promise to give our immune systems a boost. But what about our kids? How can we put them on the best footing to avoid whatever illness is making its way around the school? Here are seven tips to keep their sick days in check.
1. Increase the fruits and veggies. Carrots, green beans, oranges and strawberries all contain immunity-boosting phytonutrients such as vitamin C and carotenoids. These phytonutrients can increase the body's production of infection-fighting antibodies. On the flip side, studies show that a child’s immune system can be compromised by a diet that’s high in additives, preservatives, sugar or artificial sweeteners. Aim to get your child to eat five servings of fruits and veggies a day. A box of raisins, berries on cereal, a bowl of grapes rather than popcorn, additional lettuce, spinach or sprouts in a sandwich, an extra veggie served with every dinner… it all helps. Another food that can aid immune function? Probiotic-rich yogurt or kefir (just avoid brands with added sugars).
2. Get them moving. Research shows that moderate exercise increases the number of natural killer cells that fight infection. Take a walk together if it’s not too cold outside. Inside, you can dance or do fast-walk relays around the house. Is your child a current or past Girls on the Run participant? Have her show you some of the fun movement activities she’s learned at practice. The only caveats are to avoid her getting significantly worn out and to refrain from exercise in the two hours before bedtime.
3. Boost sleep time. Research shows a direct link between sleep and immune function. Young school-age children need 10 – 12 hours of sleep each day and teens need 8 – 9 hours. It’s common for children to be overtired and overstimulated—both of which can make it hard to sleep. Try creating some time for them to decompress without the use of electronics or screens before bed. You may also be able to adapt some other tricks from “Wellness Tip: Setting the Stage for Sleep.”
4. Decrease stress. Elevated stress hormones and a ramped up sympathetic nervous system can lead to decreased immune function. Kids’ stresses may be different from adults, but the effects are the same and so are some of the remedies. Creative play, unstructured downtime, deep breathing and laughter can all help lower stress levels.
5. Banish secondhand smoke. If you or your spouse smoke, don’t do it anywhere near your home or child. Better yet, quit. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 toxins, and children are more susceptible to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke because they breathe at a faster rate. In addition to affecting neurological development, secondhand smoke increases a child's risk of bronchitis, ear infections, asthma and other conditions.
6. Don't push for antibiotics. Urging your pediatrician to write a prescription for an antibiotic whenever your child has a cold, flu or sore throat is not a good idea. Antibiotics do not treat viruses, which are the cause of most childhood illnesses. But many pediatricians will prescribe antibiotics when pressured by parents. This leads to strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can make treatment even harder when an antibiotic is needed.
7. Stop the spread of germs. Make sure kids wash their hands with soap—particularly before and after meals, after handling pets, blowing their nose or using the bathroom, and after playing outside or arriving home from school. It may be common sense, but it’s also easy to forget. What else can you do? If your child gets sick, throw out her toothbrush. Viruses and bacteria can hop from brush to brush and a bacterial infection can even reinfect the same child later.
These simple practices can go a long way towards keeping your kids’ immune systems in top shape and ready to carry them through the winter healthy and well!
Looking for more information about children’s health and wellness? The Nemours Foundation's Center for Children's Health Media has a website loaded with helpful articles, advice and explanations. Check out KidsHealth.org.