Autumn's arrival signals us to begin our preparation for so much good—cool mornings, holidays, and more time with loved ones. Unfortunately, for many it also marks the beginning of cold and flu season. The increased demands of the holidays—along with indulgent treats through the New Year—can drain our energy and erode our health, rendering us all the more susceptible to colds and flu. But it doesn't have to be that way.

To make this autumn season your healthiest yet, be ever-mindful of how you want to feel. Whenever you find yourself thinking negatively, work to replace these thoughts with more empowering beliefs. If you already feel overwhelmed and the thought of making lifestyle changes to bolster your immune system seems daunting, take heart. You can begin simply by choosing the right foods.

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Feeling run-down? Check whether you're suffering from or exposing yourself to the following immune challenges: excess sugar, alcohol, stress; pollution; intestinal yeast; smoking; nutrient deficiencies; lack of sleep, lack of exercise, lack of laughter.

Food is powerful medicine. Every day, you can fortify your defenses by eating foods rich in antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamins C and E. Among the most plentiful and delicious of such foods are carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, kale, winter squash, spinach, and broccoli. Antioxidants work internal magic by stimulating the activity of natural killer cells (immune cells that search out and destroy bacteria and other harmful invaders). Another tip: Pay attention to the fats you eat. The fats in nuts, seeds, and fish have been shown to support the immune system, but saturated and hydrogenated fats found in foods such as beef, baked goods, and chips can tax the immune system, leaving you more susceptible to illness. With this in mind, aim for getting around 25 percent of your daily calories from quality fats (nonhydrogenated ones such as extra-virgin olive oil, plus omega-3 and omega-6 oils).

While many foods enhance immunity, others, particularly sugar, can suppress our natural defenses. North Americans consume, on average, 125 pounds of sugar per person annually, leaving our immune system literally paralyzed after Halloween-style binges. Although totally abstaining is unrealistic for most of us, try to be conscious and moderate when you do indulge. Specifically, make an effort to balance the sugar you eat with whole grains, fiber-rich beans, and lean proteins.

Your immune system is the ever-present guardian angel of your health. Honor it with strengthening foods and give yourself adequate rest. Sleep's contribution to immune strength is difficult to overestimate. These days, we often feel so wound up we can't come down. Try to separate your busy day from bedtime with some gentle yoga, breathing, and meditation. These practices help your brain's pineal gland release melatonin, a hormone that supports sleep, mood, and the immune system. The release of melatonin signals an end to the day and allows the body to relax, recover, and renew for tomorrow.

Let October be a time of possibility. Turn your focus toward all that you can do to build and maintain your health. As we near the holidays, working to heal your body and mind thoroughly is the best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones.

For information or questions for Dr. James Rouse, E-mail him via www.WellnessWatchers.com.