It’s that time of the year again! The chilly weather, the holiday cheer, the coughing, the congestion, the full body ache . . .
Yep. Cold and flu season is here!
With the approaching holidays, many of us will be surrounded by others and their germs. Whether you’re amongst the thong of strangers doing the holiday shopping or being generous with the hugs and kisses at family gatherings, make sure you’re practicing these prevention techniques so you don’t get or spread cold and flu viruses.
Wash Your Hands
This should be a no-brainer. Clean hands prevent the spread of microscopic germs that could bring you down if your immune system can’t fight off the illness. You already know it’s important to wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food, but during cold and flu season, you should be more diligent with the handwashing. You’re more likely to encounter surfaces that have been touched by a hand that was coughed or sneezed into.
And don’t think that just because you’re a super star hand washer that everyone else is following the same protocol. You might not spread it, but you can still get it from someone else.
So here’s a quick reminder of how it should be done: water as hot as you can comfortably stand, soap, and thorough lathering for at least 20 seconds (don’t forget the wrists and under the fingernails). And avoid touching faucet fixtures and door handles on your way out of the bathroom with your now pristinely clean hands.
Stop Touching Your Face
When you’ve got disease-causing germs on your hands, you’re basically granting them an all-access pass to the places they want to go most – your mucous membranes. The eyes, nostrils, and mouth offer easy transfer of those germs into the bloodstream. These parts of the body lack the protective shield of skin that acts as a suit of armor against pathogens.
It’s hard to simply stop touching your face. Many of us do it absentmindedly, multiple times a day. So try to be hyper aware of the face touching, especially when the threat of a communicable virus is heightened.
Again with the hands! Although shaking hands is a customary greeting, remember that the hands are a convenient way to transfer cold and flu viruses. A likely scenario is you have hand to hand contact with someone’s virus-toting hand. Then you unconsciously touch your face. Fast forward a day or two (maybe only a few hours), and you’re wondering why you feeling crumby.
Avoid the hand shaking if you can, especially if you suspect that hand is attached to someone who is already sick. And be mindful of playful high-fives and fist bumps, too. If it’s unavoidable, just remember tip one – WASH YOUR HANDS!
Don’t forget that communal surfaces are breading grounds for gems, too. Proceed with caution around phones, door handles, shopping carts, counter tops, and public transportation. If you must touch these surfaces, be cognizant of where your hands go until you can wash or sanitize them.
Nourishing the body year round is one of the best preventative measures against illness and disease formation. A diet rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, and the right amount of healthy fats works to support immunity. Even if your social calendar has you busy attending several holiday festivities, make sure you’re not consistently trading in your intake of fruits, vegetable, whole grains, and lean protein for highly processed party food, baked goodies, and candy. We know, the temptation is tough!
If you need some extra nutritional insurance, take a multivitamin to meet your needs for immune support and general good health.
Keeping the body hydrated with plain H2O is the way to go. Drinking enough fluids enables the blood to carry disease-fighting white blood cells where they are needed to fight off infection. If you’re replacing your water intake with hot chocolate, seasonal lattes, soda or alcohol, you’re doing your body a great disservice. Not only are you consuming empty calories, but you’re also probably increasing your sugar intake. Plus alcohol and caffeine are dehydrating and may interfere with your ability to sleep well, and lack of sleep can interfere with immune function, too.
If you need to sip something hot, opt for hot tea which has antioxidants, and breathing in the steam helps the hair follicles in your nose clear out germs more effectively.
So go easy on the hot coco and holiday cocktails. And for every adult beverage you consume, chase it with a glass of water.
Take Immune Boosting Supplements
Before you pollute your body with prescription or OTC medications for cold and flu prevention or treatment, take a look at what Mother Nature has to offer. The plant kingdom is packed with disease-fighting remedies that are free from the toxic chemicals and unfavorable side effects that come with pharmaceuticals.
A worthy opponent of cold and flu viruses is astragalus. This herbs popularized by traditional Chinese medicine is an immunity powerhouse. Research suggests that astragalus stimulates your bone marrow to make more white blood cells (the disease-fighting immune cells), which produces antibodies and the antiviral protein interferon.
And a personal shout out to monolaurin. Derived from coconut and palm, this fatty acid takes down gram positive bacteria, ulcer causing H. pylori, and influenza viruses.
But don’t just take these nutraceuticals when you feel under the weather. Strengthen your immune system throughout the year so you can knock out invading viruses before they knock you out.
Just because it’s cold (and possibly wet) outside doesn’t mean your workout gear should hibernate until the spring. Physical activity supports a healthy immune system, and a highly functioning immune system can beat down viruses before they have the chance to beat you up.
It’s also a great way to burn some of those extra calories you’ll be consuming this time of year. And if the holidays tend to stress you out, raising your heartrate with physical activity can offer some stress relief.
Sleep On It
If you’re getting by on less than 6 hours of sleep each night, you could be increasing your chances of getting sick. According to a study led by a UC San Francisco sleep researcher, those getting fewer than 6 hours of sleep are 4 times more likely to catch a cold compared to people getting 7 hours or more.
Lay Off the Antibiotics
The cold and flu culprit is a virus, not a bacteria. Antibiotics won’t work on viruses. In fact, they can promote the threat of viruses and other diseases because antibiotics kill the good bacteria in your gut. These beneficial probiotic strains have profound immune-strengthening properties. So make sure your gut is fully populated with the good microbes.
If you are on antibiotics for a bacterial infection, or if you eat a diet that doesn’t promote good intestinal health (meaning you eat a lot of processed foods), make sure you’re replenishing the good bacteria with probiotic supplements or fermented foods.
Practice these cold and flu prevention tips so you don’t become the one at work (or in the household) who got everyone else sick. It takes just one person to bring everyone else down. So don’t be that guy/gal.
Turn Up the Humidity
It’s not just close proximity to others that makes cold and flu viruses spread through whole households and offices. Low humidity environments promote the spread of airborne germs on two fronts.
First, low humidity conditions dry out the mucous membranes in the respiratory tract. Mucus, which is mostly water, acts as a barrier against pathogenic threats. So when mucus dries up, the body loses its natural ability to ward off airborne bacteria and viruses.
Second, low humidity helps to preserve the viability of airborne germs. At higher humidity, airborne flu particles are saturated with moisture and settle more quickly due to gravity. In low humidity, flu particles shrink and remain airborne longer, according to one study.
So while we’re seeking refuge from the outdoor chill, the warmth inside actually fuels the spread of germs. Indoor heating lowers humidity even more, allowing potential illness to hover around us.
Invest in a humidifier to infuse more moisture into the air and reduce the spread of circulating germs.