It’s that time of year again. Sending kids back-to-school, back to enclosed classrooms, exposed to illnesses such as COVID, flu, colds, strep, and other infections. So how do we keep our kids healthy and build their immune defense against sickness?
Six tips to assist in making back-to-school a healthy and enjoyable time for all!
Getting into a normal sleep pattern is important for building a back-to-school schedule. There needs to be a transition from summer late nights with friends and video games to shutting down at a reasonable hour. Not getting enough sleep can lead to health issues, such as memory problems and depression, but it can also lead to a weakened immune system. Lack of sleep is correlated with higher levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. Stress is known to suppress the immune system. Studies have shown that less than five hours of sleep negatively affects the immune system, and that seven to nine hours of sleep is ideal for adults, and nine to 11 hours of sleep is ideal for school-age children.
Physical exercise boosts the body’s immune response, releasing anti-inflammatory cytokines, increasing lymphocyte circulation and recruit cells responsible for attacking bacteria; thus it can the lower the risk of contracting illness and decrease the intensity of symptoms. Engaging in recreational activities like bike riding, team sports, running, and backyard games, etc. several times a week can really help to keep the immune system strong (1).
Kids need the same nutrients as adults — but usually require smaller amounts. As children grow, it’s vital for them to get adequate amounts of nutrients that help build strong bones, such as calcium and vitamin D. Moreover, iron, zinc, iodine, choline, and vitamins A, B6 (folate), B12, and D are crucial for brain development in early life. Thus, although kids may need smaller amounts of vitamins and minerals compared to adults, they still need to get enough of these nutrients for proper growth and development.
A diet healthy in fruits and vegetables is essential for optimum immune health. Foods high in Vitamins C, D, and E, as well as beta-carotene, a form of Vitamin A, are key for healthy immune systems. Some foods that boost the immune system are:
- Fruits: such as grapefruit, oranges, clementines, papaya, kiwi, lemons, and tangerines
- Vegetables high in Vitamin C: like spinach, red bell pepper, and broccoli (the last two are also high in beta-carotene)
- Garlic: which has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, and is known to boost the immune system, thanks to the sulfur-containing compound, allicin
- Yogurt: which contains active cultures and probiotics that help support the immune system by keeping the microbiome in balance. A probiotic supplement is also a good choice.
- Almonds: which contain Vitamin E, and just half of a cup provides nearly 100% of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin E.
Limiting sugar intake is important too. Sugar can cause inflammation and indirectly wreak havoc on the immune system. Try changing the snack routine from cookies and ice cream to non-sugary nibbles.
Vitamins and supplements can help if the diet is lacking in some way.
Stay hydrated. Keeping the body hydrated maintains function of the whole physical network. Organs and cells need water to function, and you will be less susceptible to sickness when your body is in check.
Washing your hands with soap and water can reduce the risk of respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16–21%. When running water isn’t an option, anti-bacterial wipes or hand sanitizers are a great alternative. A study concluded that the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in U.S. classrooms reduced absenteeism due to infection by about 20% overall among 16 elementary schools and 6,000 students (2).
Laughter, Play Time & Rest
Stress can chip away at the immune system (3). Scheduling time for play and rest is vital to maintaining health during the demands of the busy school year. As the adage goes, laughter really is the best medicine. Laughing lowers the levels of stress hormones, while simultaneously boosting white blood cells that are responsible for fighting infection. For those students who take their academics too seriously, make sure they break away from the books from time to time.
Back-to-school should be a fun time- keeping your kids healthy will help improvove the experience.
(1) da Silveira MP, da Silva Fagundes KK, Bizuti MR, Starck É, Rossi RC, de Resende E Silva DT. Physical exercise as a tool to help the immune system against COVID-19: an integrative review of the current literature. Clin Exp Med. 2021 Feb;21(1):15-28. doi: 10.1007/s10238-020-00650-3. Epub 2020 Jul 29. PMID: 32728975; PMCID: PMC7387807.
(2) Wang Z, Lapinski M, Quilliam E, Jaykus LA, Fraser A. The effect of hand-hygiene interventions on infectious disease-associated absenteeism in elementary schools: A systematic literature review. Am J Infect Control. 2017;45: 682–689.
edited by Maria Pietromonaco