15 Simple Ways to Fend Off Colds and Flu


View as:

'Flu Season Ahead' on blackboard
Photo credit: simez78/shutterstock


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 spent on medications. Rather than give in to what seems inevitable, boost your immunity and stay healthy by following these painless and inexpensive tips.

washing hands in sink
Photo credit: Alexander Raths/shutterstock


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. No sanitizer? A splash of vodka can work too.

happy smiling woman with ok hand sign
Photo credit: Piotr Marcinski/shutterstock


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 it's possible to wash your hands.

'Do Not Touch' icon
Photo credit: Sergey Furtaev/shutterstock


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.

eggs and tasty healthy dairy products in the refrigerator
Photo credit: iprachenko/shutterstock


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.

sneezing woman sick blowing nose at the subway station
Photo credit: cunaplus/shutterstock


Enclosed, crowded spaces are likely to harbor the latest bug going around. While other people can't be avoided altogether, 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 hands as soon as possible, don't touch your face, and keep your distance from anyone who is obviously sick.

spoon of honey
Photo credit: MAHATHIR MOHD YASIN/shutterstock


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 still a sweet treat, and it is an ingredient in numerous DIY cold remedies from around the world.

drinking water while working with laptop computer
Photo credit: T.Dallas/shutterstock


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 lurking in unprocessed vegetables and fruit. Still, it's best to drink water instead of sugary drinks and pay attention to your thirst throughout the day.

cup of green tea with honey and cinnamon on wooden background
Photo credit: Africa Studio/shutterstock


Make it a habit to drink tea with honey. In addition to honey's healing powers, the steam from hot beverages can open up airways. A good green tea brims with healthy immune-boosting antioxidants, too.

woman's legs running on treadmill
Photo credit: Viktoria Gavrilina/shutterstock


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.

probiotic capsules
Photo credit: aidart/shutterstock


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.

peaceful woman meditating outside
Photo credit: Pressmaster/shutterstock


Stress, especially chronic stress, can wreak havoc on the immune system. While it may not be possible to cut down on all stress triggers, it is possible to deal with them more effectively. Deep-breathing exercises, yoga, walking outside, and meditation all help.

hand cleaning door knob
Photo credit: Quinn Martin/shutterstock


At work, shared property like the microwave, refrigerator, fax machine, door handles, and the like can all benefit from being wiped down with a sanitizer. At home, the entry door, the bathroom door, and 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.

woman cleaning her smart phone screen
Photo credit: file404/shutterstock


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.

pen in hand
Photo credit: Pammy Studio/shutterstock


Pens are often needed at the bank, the doctor's office, the grocery store, the dentist, 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.

female hand holding a paper cup
Photo credit: George Dolgikh/shutterstock


If someone in the household comes down with a cold, flu, or GI bug, switch to throwaway cups, paper towels, and the like. Disposables can be pricey, but this simple (and short-term) strategy can reduce the spread of germs.

Cheapism.com participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you choose to purchase a product through a link on our site. This helps support our work and does not influence editorial content.