If you have been watching the news, you probably would have heard of this name: Zika. It is a kind of virus that is quickly spreading in Singapore. This virus is especially dangerous for pregnant women because it causes microcephaly in foetuses, a birth defect which leaves a baby with an abnormally small head.

Although as a student, you are not most at risk, the stark reality is germs and viruses surround us and they are constantly warring against us. The only thing that keeps you from succumbing is your immune system. To give your immune system a better chance of keeping the coughs, sniffles and ah-choos at bay, here are four areas that you should take more notice of and choose to practice to help keep yourself healthy.

Healthy diet

Eating healthily gives your immune system the necessary vitamins and nutrients to function properly. You probably have heard of this age old adage: an apple a day keeps the doctor away. While apples are high in nutritional content, but to truly keep the doctor away, variety is key.

Research has shown that people who constantly eat the same food tend to be less healthy than those who get more variety in their diets. This is because micronutrients – for example, zinc, selenium, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C and E—are present in different amounts in different food families. Eating from just a specific food family results in micronutrients deficiency which makes your body more susceptible to illnesses.

So for all the Singaporeans out there who eat chicken rice/ nasi lemak/ roti prata every meal, every day, my advice is to switch it up. This can be done by eating according to the food colour wheel. As a rule of thumb, fruits and vegetables of different colours generally contain different types of vitamins, nutrients and anti-oxidants.

Exercise in moderation

We all know that exercise is essential to healthy living because it improves your cardiovascular health, help control your body weight and keep you energised. What you might not know is that by promoting good blood circulation, exercise allows the cells and substances of your immune system to course through your body unhindered, and do their job.

However, make sure that you do not overdo it. Intense exercise temporarily puts stress on the immune system, and make you more susceptible to infection. For example, running a marathon may temporarily depress the adaptive immune system for up to 72 hours. This means that if you train vigorously for more than 4 times a week, your body’s line of defence will always be down and you will get sick more often than those who exercise in moderation  

Keep stress level low

The stress hormone corticosteroid suppresses the effectiveness of the immune system which makes us are more vulnerable to infections. Additionally, a person may also use unhealthy coping mechanisms such as binge eating, drinking and smoking to deal with stressful situations; this indirectly compromises the immune system.

Here we need to differentiate between acute stress, which lasts for at most, hours, and chronic stress, which lasts for days or even years on end. The latter is more problematic and results in a host of health problems, ranging from stomach upset to even heart disease.

Sleep more

Not getting enough sleep has been linked to an impaired immune system, and a longer recovery time once you fall sick. Mortality increases when you get less than 6 hours of sleep a night. So, if you have to wake up by 5.30am the next day to go to school, you best be in bed by 11.30pm. I know, you have endless amounts of homework, but do not forget that you only live once!

No one likes feeling under the weather, so this article serves as a check list for keeping your immune system in tip top condition. And if you think your health can wait, let me tell you, no it can’t.