No one is immune to being laid low during cold and flu season. Dry winter weather and enclosed spaces create breeding grounds for germs, and coming down with something may require a pricey trip to the doctor or a small fortune for medications. Rather than give in to what seems inevitable, boost your immunity and stay healthy by following these painless and inexpensive tips.
WASH YOUR HANDS
To keep bugs at bay, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using warm water and lathering for a full 20 seconds (gauge the time by singing the birthday song twice). In the absence of soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Remember, sanitizer doesn't kill all germs, but it helps reduce their number. A splash of vodka can work too.
DON'T TOUCH YOUR FACE
It's impossible to know when you're coming in contact with nasty microorganisms invisible to the naked eye. To stay healthy, avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes — all entry points for germs — until you can wash your hands.
KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF PUBLIC FIXTURES
Elevator buttons, door handles, railings, water fountains — all are crawling with germs. Most are probably harmless, but avoid touching anything unnecessarily to eliminate some exposure.
GET PLENTY OF VITAMIN D
Vitamin D plays a key role in helping ward off illness, but many of us don't get enough of it. Soaking up sun is perhaps the simplest and cheapest way to get more vitamin D, but it's not always easy, especially in the dead of winter. Reach for foods rich in vitamin D, including egg yolks, fish (such as shrimp, sardines, and wild-caught salmon), cereal, fortified orange juice, milk, and yogurt.
Enclosed, crowded spaces are likely to harbor the latest bug going around. While you can't avoid other people altogether, whenever possible, steer clear of places that tend to be crowded, such as concerts, sporting events, hospitals, airplanes, and the subway. When venturing into a throng is unavoidable, wash your hands as soon as possible, don't touch your face, and keep your distance from anyone who is obviously sick.
Drinking plenty of fluids is important year-round, and especially so during cold and flu season. Water is the obvious choice, but other liquids count, including those in fresh vegetables and fruit. Still, it's best to drink water instead of sugary drinks and pay attention to your thirst throughout the day.
TRY SOME HONEY
Feel a cough coming on? Soothe your throat with a tablespoon of honey. Honey has antibacterial properties and has been used for centuries as a healing agent (ancient Egyptians and Greeks were big fans). More high-quality studies are needed to determine whether honey can really beat a cold, according to Mayo Clinic, but it's an ingredient in numerous DIY cold remedies from around the world.
Make it a habit to drink tea with honey, as well. In addition to honey's healing powers, the steam from hot beverages can open up airways. Good green tea brims with healthy immune-boosting antioxidants, too.
The benefits of a good cardio routine include sweating, increased blood flow and oxygen in the blood, and an uptick in the body's ability to ward off sickness. Regular exercise also helps with relaxation. Even a light workout can help when you have a mild cold (but not a fever), according to a Mayo Clinic expert.
TRY A PROBIOTIC
Available in the form of pills or food (try kefir, yogurt, or miso), probiotics may help the gut function properly and prevent nasty bugs from taking root. Although taking a probiotic is an option many natural health practitioners promote, know that results are not guaranteed. The National Health Service in the U.K. dismisses claims that probiotics help healthy adults.
At work, shared property like the microwave, refrigerator, coffee machine, and door handles can benefit from being wiped down with a sanitizer. At home, the handles on the entry and bathroom doors and the light switches all need more than a weekly or bi-weekly cleaning. And don't forget the gym. It's not a bad idea to wipe down weights with a sanitizing wipe or spray (most gyms provide them) before beginning a set.
SANITIZE YOUR PHONE
Think about all the germs that accrue on a cellphone as the screen is swiped repeatedly throughout the day. Worse, it's pressed against the face and mouth when used to make a call. Make a habit of wiping down the phone daily with wipes approved for electronics and use hands-free accessories to place and receive calls.
CARRY A PEN
Pens are often needed at the bank, the doctor's office, the grocery store, restaurants, and elsewhere. Instead of using a pen that hundreds of others have touched, carry your own as a very simple way to cut down on germ exposure.
If someone in your household comes down with a cold, flu, or GI bug, temporarily switch to throwaway cups, paper towels, and the like. Disposables can be pricey and are not environmentally friendly, but they're a simple, short-term way to reduce the spread of germs.