We talk about health and beauty as having an inner wholeness and balance that offers resilience against the external pressures of your environment. Among other things, this means that you can be exposed to certain infectious agents and not necessarily get sick.As you go about your daily life, you will come into contact with germs—it can’t be avoided, no matter how hard you try.QUIZ: How Healthy Do You Feel?Sure you need to wash your hands and cough into your sleeve, but what are some ways to shore up immunity during this time when infections of all kinds seem to rear their ugly head?Here are five tips for entering the cold and flu season to keep your body resilient during this time:

  • Optimize Vitamin D levels.  This hormone (it’s not actually  a vitamin) has receptor sites in every area of the body including the immune system and respiratory tissue. Studies have linked vitamin D as necessary for the production of antimicrobial proteins from immune cells in response to infection. Low levels of vitamin D in the blood are linked with increased incidence of upper respiratory infection. Adults should keep optimum levels by taking at least 2000 IU daily. Get your levels checked if you think you are low.
  • Learn about immune boosting tonics.  I like medicinal mushrooms like shiitake, maitake, reishi and cordyceps. You can take extracts of these in liquid or capsule form. My other favorite is a Chinese root called Astragalus, used to prevent illness and strengthen immunity once you do get sick.  You can buy the root and make it into a tea or soup; otherwise, buy extracts in liquid or capsule form and take as directed.

MORE: Guide to Alternative Medicine

  • Fight viruses with elderberry extract.  The fruit of the elderberry shrub (Sambucus nigra) has a long history of being used for colds and flu. It has been supported scientifically with studies from Israel showing that taking a liquid extract of elderberry reduced the duration of flu symptoms as compared to placebo over a period of a week’s time. Its antiviral properties seem to come from  the flavonoids that give elderberry its purple color.

  • Breathe deeply. Do this correctly by using the muscles of your abdomen and the ones between your ribs (intercostals) to squeeze more air out of your lungs as you exhale. By moving more air out, you bring more air in. Allowing your breath to be fuller, deeper and more even helps you to optimize immunity and access spontaneous healing in your body.
  • Live well. This has to do with proper lifestyle measures that we know we should be doing, but sometimes find difficult to manage. Make a concerted effort to get proper rest, eat and drink well, move your body and manage stress. I recommend trying to get between at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night. You’ll know how much your body needs based on how refreshed you feel when you wake up in the morning. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet filled with fruits and vegetables of a variety of colors. Try to get some exercise every day even if it’s just thirty minutes of walking, and learn how to breathe well (see above).

COLUMN: Wash Your Hands, and Your Vegetables