It happens every year. The sun sets earlier, the temperature drops, and the shelves of your local drug store are stuffed with cold and flu medicines to help you battle the various ailments of the season. This year, take a few easy preventative measures to help you avoid getting sick. By acting defensively, you lower your risk for illness and do not have to worry about calling in sick, wasting vacation time, or dealing with the discomfort an illness can cause.
1. Get a Flu Vaccine
This is one of the easiest ways to prevent the flu, but many people are still reluctant to get their annual flu shot. Weakened strains of the flu virus are injected into your blood stream, so your immune system is able to build up a tolerance to the virus through exposure. Because the virus is not active, it is next to impossible to catch the flu from this vaccine, according to Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. At most, you may encounter some mild flu symptoms, such as a scratchy throat, runny nose, or mild headache, that will go away within a few days.
2. Wash Your Hands Often
One of the fastest ways to get sick in the winter is by touching your face or mouth. These germs live on your hands and are easily transferred when you go to cover a yawn or scratch around your ear. To prevent getting sick, make sure you wash your hands after every trip to the bathroom, before every meal, after handling money, and after being around a sick individual. Can’t get to the sink as often as you would like? Invest in a small bottle of hand sanitizer and carry it with you wherever you go. It’s inexpensive, easily portable, and is a great way to prevent getting sick in the winter.
3. Sneeze or Cough Into Your Arm
Covering your cough or sneeze with your hands is one of the worst ideas when it comes to preventing illness. While it may be polite to cover with your hands, you run the risk of spreading these germs to other people. Instead, sneeze or yawn into the crook of your arm or shoulder. You’ll still be considered polite, but you won’t infect others around you.
4. Stay Hydrated
Water is essential to every bodily process. Dehydration adds extra stress on the body, and makes all of your systems work harder. Not being properly hydrated also leads to a breakdown in your immunity barriers, the first layer of defense against flu and colds. This season, make sure to get your eight daily glasses of water to help prevent you from getting sick.
5. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is like water in that it is essential for your body to function. During sleep, your body repairs itself from the damage of the day, and it uses this time of dormancy to fight off infections and ailments. Make sure to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
6. Color Your Plate
Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins and nutrients that are the building blocks for a healthy immune system. By eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, you keep your body hydrated and balanced, and you build up your immune system. As an added bonus, produce gives you natural energy and helps to maintain your weight during the holiday season. Beware of vitamin and mineral supplements that claim to work the same way as produce in building up your immune system, as they are not a substitute.
7. Stay Active
Regular aerobic activity raises the heart rate and pumps oxygen rich blood all over your body. This helps prevent cold and flu by increasing the body’s reserves of virus killing cells by forcing your body to work harder. Regular exercise also prevents the body from releasing the stress hormone cortisol, which wreaks havoc on the immune system and other processes. Exercise also gives you extra energy that will help you in your day to day tasks, particularly during the sluggish winter months when it gets darker earlier.
8. Cut Out Smoking
Smoking dries out your nasal passages and throat, along with hurting the small hairs that line the inside of your nose that push viruses and bacteria out of the nose. These little hairs are extremely important, but studies show that a single cigarette can paralyze them for up to a half an hour. Smoking also damages the respiratory system, making it more prone to infection. Studies have found that smokers get more frequent and longer lasting respiratory infections and colds.
9. Limit Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol actually dehydrates the body, meaning it causes a great fluid loss than what you ingest. Alcohol is also known to suppress immune system function with regards to initial infections. During the winter months, let water be your primary beverage of choice to help prevent illness, as alcohol does not contribute any nutrition or hydration to the body.
You don’t have to spend this winter huddled around a humidifier or under blankets waiting for your illness to pass. Instead, take a few preventative measures to ensure don’t get stuck with a cold or flu. Remember that persistence is key; practice these habits every day for best results. There is no known cure for the cold or flu, so preventing infection altogether should be your primary approach.