The start of fall is the perfect time to hit the reset button on your health routines. As kids head back to school and the summer fun comes to a close, we can all take this opportunity to prioritize some of the most important habits that can help keep illness at bay and give you the energy you need to accomplish your goals.
1. Focus on healthy eating.
Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a mom of three, nutrition expert and author of "Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen" told TODAY that it's a great idea to focus on foods that boost your immune system as we head into cold and flu season. This includes foods rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits, green veggies (like broccoli and kale), berries and peppers.
"Vitamin D is also vital, especially as the days get shorter," said Largeman-Roth. "We can get vitamin D from eggs and fatty fish like Alaska salmon and Alaska halibut, which are wild-caught, sustainable and also provide essential omega-3 fatty acids. Beta-carotene-rich foods, like carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, kale and mustard greens are also smart to include in the fall for immunity. Lucky for us, they’re all coming into season!"
Another area to focus on is gut health by eating foods with probiotics, like yogurt, kefir, kombucha and kimchi, as well as foods with probiotic fiber, such as apples, asparagus, bananas, kiwi, chia seeds and oats, that will help to foster a healthy gut environment. "A healthy gut is one of our first lines of defense when it comes to immune health," she said.
2. Drink smart.
If you spent the summer indulging in lemonade and rosé, now's the time to cut back on the sugary drinks and booze and think more about staying hydrated. But it's not just because it's friendlier to your waistline.
"You just feel better when you have enough fluids!" said Largeman-Roth. "But hydration is also important for trapping viruses and bacteria that try to enter through your nose. If your nasal passages are dried out, they can’t trap and get rid of the things that might make you sick."
3. Prioritize sleep.
We've all heard this advice before but as we head into the busy season of school and then the holidays, it's truly essential to get enough zzz's for good health. Largeman-Roth said that although stress can make sleep elusive for many of us, there are some strategies we can use to make a good night's sleep easier.
"Turn off tech at least an hour before bed, avoid caffeine in the afternoon, use lavender to relax before bed," she suggested. "And Instead of a glass of wine in the evening, try a cup of relaxing peppermint or chamomile tea."
4. Get moving.
Moderate exercise boosts immunity and reduces stress levels — and bonus: it can also contribute to getting enough sleep at night.
"Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days," advised Largeman-Roth. And while it's fine to hit the treadmill, the gym or your favorite class, bonus points for getting some activity outdoors.
"Getting outside helps reduce levels of cortisol, a stress hormone," said Largeman-Roth. "Also, getting outside for at least 20 minutes a day in the sunshine is necessary for your body to make vitamin D."
5. Keep up COVID-safe protocols.
Safety tips may be changing in regard to COVID-19 so stay alert for new information. "We should all continue to practice the COVID safety ‘basics,’" Dr. Jessica Justman, senior technical director of ICAP at Columbia University and associate professor of medicine in epidemiology at Columbia University explained. "Get vaccinated if you have not already done so; wear a mask, one that fits snugly over your nose and mouth, in public indoor spaces or with unvaccinated individuals indoors; avoid touching your face with unwashed hands; wash your hands with soap after touching potentially contaminated surfaces; and try to continue to maintain social distance from others as much as possible."
6. Don't forget doctors’ appointments.
"Many people have been waiting to schedule routine screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, and doctors’ appointments until the pandemic is over," said Justman. "This is understandable but the pandemic that has lasted 18 months and is still continuing." Don’t let these important routine healthcare appointments wait any longer, she advised.
7. Take care of your smile.
A new season is the perfect time to book that missed dental appointment, and not just because it'll help you look great. "Poor dental health, especially gum disease, is a significant risk factor for more severe COVID-19, including death from COVID," said Justman. "Don’t wait for the pandemic to be over to go back to the dentist. Schedule that appointment now."
8. Commit to quitting.
If you didn't already have enough reasons to quit, now you know that smoking is also a known risk factor for more severe COVID-19. "This means if you are exposed to COVID-19 and are a current or former cigarette smoker, you are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19," said Justman. "As the CDC website notes, if you currently smoke, the best thing to do is quit. If you used to smoke, don’t start again. If you’ve never smoked, don’t start."
9. Get a flu shot.
Although flu rates were much lower than usual last year due to the lockdown, we can expect more flu to be circulating as indoor social activities increase. "The initial symptoms of the flu (fever, cough, runny nose, aches, headache) resemble COVID-19 symptoms so you may feel quite worried that you have COVID-19 when you actually have the flu," said Justman. "Getting your annual flu shot is therefore extra important this year."
10. Plan a fun fall.
And while you're booking those shots and exercise sessions, don't forget to schedule some time for fall fun. Having happy events to look forward to is a great way to boost your mood and put you in the right frame of mind to have a great fall season.Related: