Although many pediatricians consider six to eight colds, bouts of flu, or ear infections per year as normal, you can help keep those sick days fewer and shorter by beefing up your children’s immune system.
1. Encourage them to eat more fruits and vegetables.
These foods contain essential vitamins and minerals that improve the body’s germ-fighting ability. They also provide phytochemicals, nutrients that are believed to strengthen the immune system, remove carcinogens or cancer-causing toxins from the body, and repair DNA (the body’s genetic material) damage caused by pollutants.
Six to 12 year olds should get four servings of vegetables and three servings of fruits daily. Examples of one serving include: one medium size fruit; half a cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit; three fourths of a cup of 100 percent fruit juice; a cup of raw, leafy vegetable; and half a cup of other vegetables, cooked or raw.
2. Increase their sleep time.
Not only does sleep deprivation decrease your children’s concentration in school, studies have also shown that it weakens their immune system and makes them vulnerable to depression. How much sleep is enough? Pediatricians recommend 10 to 12 hours for kids between six to 12 years old.
3. Let them become physically active.
Exercise increases blood flow, which helps flush out simple bacteria in the lungs and toxins in the body through sweat and urine. It also improves the circulation of white blood cells that detect and fight off infections. Make exercise fun by engaging the entire family in activities like biking, nature trekking, and swimming. Encourage your children to sign up in school for the sports they’re interested in.
4. Avoid smoking.
Because kids breathe at a faster rate and have a less developed immune system, they are more susceptible to the negative effects of second hand smoking. Tobacco smoke contains hundreds of toxic chemicals that can compromise the body’s ability to fight off infection. These toxins remain in the air for at least 48 hours.
Exposure to them can trigger bronchitis, asthma, wheezing, ear infection, allergies, other problems in the upper respiratory tract, and cancer. It may also affect their brain development.
5. Be smart when giving medicines.
Don’t be quick to give your children pills whenever they feel sick. Otherwise, you’re training their immune system to become dependent on drugs to ward off infection. During their growing years, kids are expected to be sick more often than adults, because sickness is the body’s way of combating foreign invaders and building immunity in the process.
Antibiotics, in particular, should be used sparingly. While many of them are available without a prescription in the Philippines, you should always consult a pediatrician first and request a prescription with clear instructions.
Do not overmedicate or stop the medication before its full course. Either way, both actions will spur the growth of more aggressive strains of harmful bacteria that are harder to treat. Too much antibiotics will also kill the good bacteria.
6. Provide vitamin supplements.
Getting kids, especially the picky ones, to eat healthy, well balanced meals can be difficult during this age of fast food and hectic lifestyles. That is why many experts recommend vitamins or multivitamin tablets or syrups to supplement your children’s diet. Look for the following key nutrients that are known to enhance the immune system: vitamins C, E, A, and zinc.
7. Teach them to drink plenty of water.
Water comprises 83 percent of our blood, the primary vehicle for transporting nutrients to body cells. It is also a crucial component of lymph, the fluids that contain germ killing white blood cells. Since active kids sweat a lot, ensure that they replenish the lost fluids by drinking water, which also regulates body temperature. Six to 10 glasses a day should be sufficient.
8. Limit their intake of unhealthy foods.
Soft drinks, pastries, junk foods, and other processed foods are high in fat, cholesterol, salt, sugar, and trans-fatty acids. They contribute to a host of chronic illnesses like diabetes, and could cause obesity, which is believed to weaken the body’s defense mechanism. Studies also indicate that too much sugar suppresses the immune system.
9. Create a happy environment at home.
Children who are raised in a loving and secure environment are naturally happier. Being happy produces more endorphins, which are hormones that relieve pain and bolster the immune system. So go ahead and bond with your kids. Listen to them. Inject humor into the relationship. Teach them to enjoy the simple things in life and to maintain a positive attitude.
Optimism has also been found to elevate T-cells, which are involved in boosting the body’s immunity.
10. Limit time spent in front of television and computer.
Have you ever noticed how kids who watch too much TV or play computer games for hours tend to feel tired quickly? These unhealthy preoccupations replace productive activities (like exercise, which builds up the immune system) and encourages snacking on munchies and soda pop – a risk for many diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.