Throughout the colder months of the year, it feels like cold and flu germs are inescapable. Whether you’re in a crowded public space, with a heightened awareness of the dangers of touching handrails, bathroom door handles, people coughing … or whether you’re in the comfort of your own home, with children bringing home germs from school or friends coming to visit and bringing all their germs with them too … it feels like you can never let your guard down.
Did you know that the cold itself does not cause a cold? Only exposure to a virus causes the common cold and/or flu. Most secrets to staying healthy and keeping cold and flu germs away are nothing secret whatsoever – they are simple, common sense. There are many simple ways in which you can prevent getting sick this winter, which, in turn, protects your family, friends and coworkers as well.
1)Wash Your Hands
There is a reason this is commonly recited – it works! Handwashing is scientifically proven to be one of the simplest ways to keep cold and flu viruses at bay. Any regular hand soap, not just antibacterial brands, are effective when used properly. The “secret” is to wash your hands correctly, which includes the backs of your hands, in-between fingers, along fingers, and to wash for a minimum of 20 seconds. Washing your hands before eating or preparing food and before making any contact between your hands and mouth will help keep bad germs away. Carrying a hand sanitizer is also a good idea at all times.
2) Eat and Drink Green
Eating your vegetables is not advised just for the sake of your physical health but for the sake of your immune health as well. Green, leafy vegetables are dense with vitamins that support a strong immune system. Vegetables of the cruciferous variety (i.e. green and leafy, such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower) send a chemical signal to the brain that boosts specific cell-surface proteins that support immune system functionality. There are many ways to incorporate leafy greens into your diet without eating salad every day, such as in smoothies, sandwiches and soups. Green tea is also an important addition to your diet because of its unparalleled levels of antioxidants, namely flavonoids, which help to boost immunity. Most importantly, stay hydrated and drink plenty of water, at all times.
3) Keep Active
Maintaining your cardiovascular health will support your immune health. Keeping active throughout the winter months also does wonders for your mental health, warding off stress and providing an outlet for anxiety and frustration (at the wait until spring, for example!). There is a proven connection between chronic stress and physical illness. Cortisol, which is released much more often in people who are chronically stressed, aids in fighting off inflammation and disease. The constant release of cortisol lessens its overall effectiveness, opening the door to infection and disease. Exercise has a wide array of benefits, including reducing inflammation and through increased circulation, both of which help to fight the common cold. On days when time is more limited, and a full-body workout is not possible, simply stretching for a few minutes in the morning and in the evening can make a big difference.
4) Take Vitamin D
Vitamin D is another strong supporter of the immune system, as well as cardiovascular function and bone health. The easiest way to maintain a healthy level of vitamin D is through sun-exposure (which should always be done safely) but in the winter months, that exposure can be difficult and often times rather uncomfortable! There are plenty of foods that are rich in vitamin D, such as eggs (yolks, specifically), mushrooms, fatty fish and some dairy that can be incorporated into your diet, as can vitamin D supplements available at your local grocery store or pharmacy. Vitamins A and C are immune boosters too, as well as zinc, which is a natural anti-viral. Probiotics can also help to keep you healthy, balancing the healthy bacteria in your gut, as approximately 70% of your immune system resides in your gut.
5) Brush Your Teeth
Research shows that maintaining your oral health is a key component of your overall health. There have been direct links found between oral disease and heart disease, diabetes and respiratory illnesses. The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth at least twice a day, within thirty minutes after meals. Using dental floss and mouthwash are also highly recommended for optimum oral health. Be mindful of this practice at all times.
6) Make Sleep a Priority
Getting enough sleep is paramount to your overall health, most especially that of your immune system. Science proves that those who sleep adequately have a much higher resistance to the cold and flu virus than those who do not make sleep a priority. Sleep deprivation can lead to depression, increases in mood swings and weight gain, all of which affect your immune health. If you cannot get enough sleep at night, naps are also a great way to keep your immunity strong, provided you nap no longer than 30 minutes at a time, otherwise you are interfering with a good nights’ sleep later on.
7) Avoid Sugar and Alcohol
Cutting back on refined sugar is always a good health practice, but most especially during the winter months. Consuming 75-100 grams of refined sugar, which is the equivalent of two cans of pop, reduces your body’s ability to fight off viruses and significantly lowers your body’s immune efficiency. Alcohol is high in sugar as well and is best avoided while trying to maintain maximum immunity. New research suggests that drinking alcohol can harm dentric cells, a key regulator of the immune system. For this reason, those who drink more often can be more susceptible to viral infections, which is why vaccines are less effective for those who have an addiction to alcohol.
8) Get the Flu Shot
This may be last but it is most certainly not least important on this list. The Centers for Disease Control recommend that anyone over 6 months of age get the flu shot. And while there are a rare few exceptions to this (speak to your doctor), getting the flu shot is your absolute best defense against the flu virus. When you get the vaccine, you are protecting yourself as well as those closest to you.
Should you find yourself victim to a cold or the flu this season, please stay home and keep your germs contained as best you can. Did you know that the more sick you are, the more of the virus you will spread? Stay home, rest and take care of yourself and your symptoms before returning to your workplace and social engagements.
For more information on how to stay healthy, please read this informative article from Nutrition Advance: How To Be Healthy in 20 Simple Ways