With cold and flu season underway, (and now with the craziness of COVID-19) we all want to do what we can to avoid getting sick.
There are quite a few things you can do to avoid coming down with the flu or catching one of those nasty colds this year. Fighting off a cold or the standard flu can be simpler than you think.
Unlike bacterial infections that can quickly be cleared up with a round of antibiotics, with sicknesses caused by viruses like the flu or the common cold, you often have to ride it out.
While there are medications that can help ease your symptoms, your immune system must fight the viral infection off. Why not take it easy on your body and do what you can to avoid catching it in the first place.
1 Practice Good Hand Hygiene
Your first line of defense to avoid getting sick this year is simple – Wash Your Hands.
That’s right. The simple act of washing your hands frequently with soap and hot water limits the spread of cold and flu viruses and your chance of coming down with them.
Get in the habit of washing your hands whenever you’ve been out in public, and whenever you can throughout the workday. Wash them before you eat or drink food and when hot water and soap aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Why is this so important?
Because you are more likely to pick those viruses up with your hands than any other way.
Sure, having someone cough in your face doesn’t help, but your chances of getting the flu or coming down with the common cold thanks to contact with a handrail or doorknob are much higher.
You pick the virus up by moving about your day.
It could be touching the handle of a shopping cart or closing a door behind you. It’s now on your hands, which isn’t a big problem by itself. It can’t enter through the skin there.
Don’t touch your face
The problem arises when you touch your face. It happens a lot more than most of us are aware of.
We touch our nose, rub our eyes, or get our fingers too close to our mouth when we eat or cough. The virus makes it to a mucous membrane in any of those areas and it’s right where it wants to be.
That’s why it’s important to wash your hands.
It isn’t some busy work that healthcare professionals give you to make you feel like there’s something you can do. It is your best line of defense.
So, what are you waiting for? Go wash your hands.
2 Keeping Your Distance
As much as possible, keep your distance from people who are coughing and sneezing.
Turns out that the average cold or flu virus only travels about six feet through the air.
That means if you can keep a little bit of distance between yourself and anyone that looks like they are sick, you improve your chances of staying healthy.
Of course, that’s easier said than done.
Sometimes we end up stuck in meetings with sick coworkers who didn’t stay home. Or we must brave public transportation. Or worst of all, we have to wait in a doctor’s waiting room or hospital.
You should also do your best to keep that six feet distance I mentioned earlier. Move a few seats if you can. Take a different route when you see someone with glassy eyes, or someone who’s showing any kinds of symptoms that indicate they may have a cold or the flu.
Teach your loved ones
Last but not least, use your influence to encourage others to stay home when they are sick.
If they get sick, you will be surrounded by people who spent most of their day within close proximity of you, needing your help and physical attention.
Lead by example
Stay home from the office and avoid heading out to the store when you’re sick. If you have to venture out, keep your distance and wear a mask.
Don’t sneeze or cough into your hands.
Use hand sanitizer before touching common use items like the keypad at the grocery store and the likes. Keep your kids home from school. Spread the message of the importance of staying home when sick to get others to do the same.
3 Stay Healthy
One of the most important things you can do to avoid getting sick – and not just from cold and flu, but anything else out there that’s contagious – is keep your body as strong and healthy as possible.
One of the best ways to do that is to eat a healthy diet and get some sort of daily exercise. Here’s what that may look like.
Improving your diet to eat healthier can seem like a challenge.
There’s a lot you can do.
The key is to start and make small improvements as you go along. A great place to start is by cutting out sugar and processed foods. Replace them with whole foods options where you can.
Have an apple instead of a candy bar when you need a snack. Fix some scrambled eggs instead of pouring a bowl of sugary cereal in the morning.
Skip the fast food burger and fix a salad to take to lunch. You get the idea.
From there, I would encourage you to add more fresh fruits and vegetables. Try something new. A new piece of produce, a new healthy recipe, a new way to cook your favorite foods in a healthier way.
Experiment and don’t be surprised if your tastes change over time. A baked sweet potato will start to taste better while soggy burgers will start to lose their appeal.
Sneak More Exercise into Your Day
The key to regular exercise is to create a few habits.
An easy way to start is to incorporate a brisk daily walk. Something as simple as a stroll after dinner or first thing in the morning can contribute to a healthy body.
Another option many find helpful is to wear a pedometer or fitness tracker. Monitor your daily step count for a few days and then start to increase it until you get to the recommended 10,000 steps – or challenge yourself to do even more.
Keep your bones strong and improve your overall fitness by adding some simple weightlifting routines. You don’t need any fancy equipment.
Use your body weight for resistance and grab some cans to use as weights. Of course, if you’re feeling motivated, you may also choose to join a gym or hire a personal trainer to help you get into a good workout routine.
Between the healthy food you’re eating and the exercise you’re getting, you’ll start to feel better, get stronger, and become healthier.
As a result, your immune system will be in a better position to protect you from whatever cold and flu season sends your way.
Eat Plenty of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
All systems of your body work best when they are properly fed. This includes your immune system.
Stick to a mainly whole foods based diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
If you feel like you might be a little under the weather or suspect that you may have come into contact with someone sick, increasing your intake of Vitamin C may help as well. Eat a few citrus fruits. Broccoli, cauliflower, and kale are other great options.
Avoid eating processed foods
It takes a lot of time and effort to digest them and you don’t want to weigh your body down with extra work when that energy could be used to boost your immune system, keep you from getting sick, or help you get well sooner.
4 Get a Good Night of Sleep
Can you recall a time in your life when you didn’t get enough sleep? For many of us, this happens from time to time.
How about those many sleepless nights after welcoming a newborn have you had? Or maybe you suffer from the occasional bout of insomnia.
Think back on one of those times. Chances are that those were also times when you were more likely to catch a cold or come down with the flu or a stomach bug.
On the flip side, making sure you get plenty of quality sleep can serve as a sort of insurance policy. It strengthens your immune system and helps your body fight off any type of infection or threat that comes its way.
In addition, your body will be able to heal itself faster should you come down with something if you get plenty of rest. That’s why your doctor often orders plenty of rest and fluids when you have a cold.
Why is sleep important?
Your immune system uses antibodies to fight an infection. At the end of the day, it works the same whether you’re preventing an infection from taking hold or fighting one off that’s taken enough of a hold to make you feel sick.
These antibodies stick to the virus and affect cells, rendering them ineffective. The virus-antibody combo can then be eliminated, which is why it is important that you drink plenty of fluids.
It makes it easier for your body to flush them out.
This still doesn’t explain the role of sleep, does it? I’m getting there.
Your body produces antibodies more effectively while you sleep. I’m no scientist, but I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that your body isn’t busy doing everything else it has to do as you move about your day.
While you are asleep, your immune system can work more efficiently at producing antibodies and deploying them throughout the body to fight the infection.
Keep this in mind the next time you’re tempted to skip doctor’s orders, and use it as motivation to stay home and take a nap.
Make Time for Sleep
This last tip is easy to skip over, yet it is the most important one for most of us and the one that can give your immune system a great boost.
Make the time to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Practice good sleep hygiene. Don’t let the word scare you.
It means turning off your phone and other screens a few hours before bed. Keep your bedroom calm, quiet, and at a temperature that encourages sleep.
It also includes establishing and sticking to a bedtime routine.
As an added bonus, you’ll feel more energized for everything else you have to do all day.