The weather is getting chilly, and that means cozy soups, warm scarves and hats, and toting a hankie as cold and flu season rolls in. I don’t know about you guys, but I seem to always come down with at least one case of the cold or a flu each winter, and there’s something extra miserable about being sick when it’s so cold outside.
This year, don’t wait until you’re sick to start taking care of yourself! Changing your habits now will help boost your immune system, and even if you can’t completely escape the winter ick, you can at least shorten its duration. Here are some tips to help you arm yourself for cold and flu season this year.
A 2010 study found that kids who took a vitamin D supplement during cold and flu season were twice as likely to avoid the flu as kids who took a placebo. Think your diet could use more vitamin D? You could take a supplement like the kids in the study, or try upping your intake of vitamin D-enriched foods like dairy, juices, and soy products. Mushrooms are also a good dietary source of vitamin D.
If you do decide that you need more vitamin D in your life, just make sure you don’t take more than 2000 IU each day. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, which means that it doesn’t just go through your system if you take too much. It can actually be toxic if you get more than that 2000 IU per day. The kids in the study were taking taking 1200 IU daily, so staying close to that number should do the trick.
Wash Your Hands Like Crazy
One of the simplest things you can do to prevent illness is wash your hands. A lot. You also want to avoid touching your face or putting your hands in your mouth. I’m lookin’ at you, nail-biters!
When a cold or the flu is going around, folks are coughing and sneezing into their hands, then touching things from money to doorknobs. You don’t need to obsessively use hand sanitizer, but frequent hand-washing can go a long way towards keeping those germs out of your system. If you do opt for a hand sanitizer during cold and flu season, just check the ingredients to make sure it doesn’t contain triclosan. This chemical is terrible for public health and the environment, and it’s not necessary to kill cold and flu germs.
Cough Like a Vampire
Speaking of all of that coughing and sneezing, make sure you’re not spreading germs yourself by adopting the “vampire cough.” Rather than coughing into your hand, use the crook of your elbow to “catch” your cough or sneeze. Here’s a hilarious video showing you how to do the vampire cough:
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Exercise for Your Immune System
It’s no coincidence that I didn’t get sick during my entire 18 weeks of marathon training. When your body is in good shape, it’s better equipped to fight off nasty germs. Studies have shown that regular exercise helps boost the immune system. The trick, like with anything health-related is balance. Too much exercise can actually compromise your immune system, though, so make sure you’re not overdoing it! Just 20-30 minutes of fast walking 5 days a week is enough to give your immune system a boost.
Not only does exercise help your immune system, but it helps relieve stress. Stress makes you more susceptible to cold and flu, so exercise is really a double whammy!
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You’ve heard this one before: drink plenty of fluids to keep from getting sick. For an extra immune boost, include fruit and vegetable juice in your daily routine. Those antioxidants help your body stave off illness. Just avoid sugary juices when you can – too much sugar is no good for staying healthy!
You’ll also want to drink as much green and black tea as you can. A 2009 study showed that people who drank 5 cups of tea per day had a healthier immune system than non-tea-drinkers. Five cups a day may sound like a lot, but it’s doable! Try having two cups in the morning, a cup with lunch, and a cup with dinner, and a cup while you’re winding down in the evening.
Research has shown that the “good bacteria” in yogurt can help boost the immune system, especially in people who have a suppressed immune system. Since it’s the cultures and not the milk, soy or coconut yogurt work just as well in boosting immune health.
Cut Back on Smoking and Drinking
This is kind of a no-brainer, but we do tend to overindulge around the holidays, so it bears mentioning. Cigarettes and alcohol do hinder your body’s ability to fight illness. That doesn’t mean you can’t have the occasional spiked cider, but moderation is definitely key.
Next>> If you do get sick…
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If You Do Get Sick
Even despite our best efforts, we sometimes still come down with the cold or the flu. If you do get sick, here are a few tips to help you make it through:
- Get plenty of rest. Your body does its best healing work when you’re snoozing, so consider sickness your body’s way of telling you to take a break. Watch bad TV, catch up on your reading, and rest, rest, rest.
- Gargle with salt water. This will help relieve the sore throat from post-nasal drip.
- Neti pot. At the first sign of congestion, it’s time to whip out that neti pot and start using it twice a day. Once you’re super stuffed up, it’s often too late to use the neti pot.
- Take zinc. Studies have shown that zinc can help reduce your cold’s severity and duration. Plus, those zinc lozenges are soothing for your poor throat.
- Drink lots of fluids, including hot tea. Your body runs on water, so stay hydrated if you come down with a cold or flu. Hot tea will help sooth inflammation and the warmth can help clear out those stuffy sinuses, too.
Of course, if you’re down for the count for more than a week, that cold or flu may have turned into something worse, like bronchitis. In that case, it’s doctor time. Listen to your body, and take care of yourself this cold and flu season!
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by wayne’s eye view