It’s that time of the year again. Scratchy throats, drippy noses and watery eyes. How do you build up your immune system naturally to help ward off the common cold? Here are my top 5 easy things you can do starting right now. No fancy equipment required!

1. Stay hydrated! It is so important to make sure that you are continuing to keep your body well hydrated even in the cooler months. Aim to drink 6-8 cups of water per day. Think of drinking water as being a system flush for your body. Keep the fluid in your body fresh instead of stagnant.

2. Enjoy sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C has been found to reduce the severity of cold symptoms as well as support our overall immune system. Great sources of vitamin C include citrus, strawberries, red bell peppers and kiwi.

3. Reduce sugar consumption. Most North American adults consume 26 teaspoons of sugar per day! Studies have shown that consuming 24 teaspoons of sugar impairs immune system function by 40% for up to five hours! Have some fruit to fill that sweet craving instead of refined sugary foods like energy bars, muffins and candies. An added bonus is that you’ll get some extra vitamin C in the process!

4. Here in the great white north, it can be difficult to get enough of vitamin D. Food sources include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna or mackerel, beef liver, egg yolks & cheese. It can be difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone. Discuss taking a supplement with your health care provider.

5. Get enough sleep. The importance of a well rested body cannot be overstated. When we are tired, our immune system does not function at peak performance. Practise good sleep hygiene by establishing bedtime routines such as a regular times for going to bed and waking up. Leave technology out of the bedroom and make it a quiet retreat at the end of the day. Also avoid night lights in the bedroom as they can disrupt our sleep rhythms.

And here is a bonus tip I just couldn’t leave out.

6. It is very important to make sure that we are incorporating good healthy bacteria into our digestive system on a daily basis. Up to 70% of our immune system function is located in our gut! A healthy gut means a healthier you! Probiotics help support our gut bacteria, thereby supporting our immune function. Great food sources include unsweetened yogurt, kefir, raw sauerkraut and kombucha.

With actions like these in place, you’ll be ready to take on the winter months! Even if you still get sick, your body will thank you for preparing it for the fight!

This article first appeared in the Elmira Independent on Friday, November 21, 2014.