While most of the country is experiencing a seasonably warm start to December, the flu season doesn’t take a break with warmer temperatures. In fact, the flu season officially started in October, with every state reporting cases to date. The CDC compiles this information in a weekly flu report on its website. With two new strains expected to hit this season, in addition to getting your flu shot, here are suggestions for other ways you can avoid the flu this season.
Hand Washing – Though simple in practice, regular hand washing is one of the most critical steps in avoiding the flu. Think about everything you touch throughout the day and how we are continually spreading germs. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap to eliminate germs. Every time you shake someone’s hand, wash your hands. If don’t have immediate access to a sink, keep hand sanitizer handy in your car, purse and at your desk.
Don’t Touch Your Face – You’ve been washing your hands, so touching your face shouldn’t be a problem, right? A new study finds that every time we touch our nose or mouth, we are transferring bacteria and viruses from our hands to our face. Transferring germs from one part of our body to another, especially to the more susceptible face area, is an easy way to get sick. "There are many opportunities in between hand-washing episodes for people to re-contaminate their hands," said one study researcher.
Exercise – There are more excuses not to workout in winter months: “It’s cold outside,” “It’s dark when I get off work” and “I’m too busy.” However, maintaining a regular exercise regimen is a big immune system booster. Research shows that people who exercise regularly are less likely to get sick, and if they do, they are more likely to bounce back faster. Make exercise a priority this flu season. Considerate it your weekly dose of preventive medicine!
Be Choosy – With the holidays come opportunities for indulgence. From holiday desserts around the office to festive parties and gatherings, we are more likely to have an extra slice of pie or another glass of champagne. However, consuming more sugar and fats can weaken the integrity of our immune systems. Allow yourself to enjoy the tastes and spirits of the season, but only in moderation.
Eat Power Foods – Just as sugar and fats can have a negative impact on your immune system, foods rich in nutrients like fruits, vegetables and whole grains can strengthen your immune system and give you the protection you need to stay healthy this flu season. Some foods like garlic, yogurt and fish have special immunity building properties.
Make Sleep a Priority – The holidays are a busy and often stressful time, as we are wrapping up end-of-year work assignments, making the rounds at holiday parties and getting in last-minute shopping. However, don’t let your quantity or quality of sleep suffer. When you’re tired, your body, including your immune system, is not fighting as hard as it normally would to keep germs at bay. Stick to a regular sleep routine at night and aim to get the same amount of sleep, at least 7-8 hours if possible, every night. Even on the weekends, it is important to stay as close to your regular sleep schedule as possible.
Relax – Deep breathing and yoga poses do more than help you clear your thoughts, they help ward off stress hormones in your system that can wear you down. A weekly yoga class can help strengthen your immunity and help you take a break from your busy holiday schedule. If you can’t make it to a class, take breaks throughout the day to take deep breaths, focusing on fresh oxygen getting into your lungs and relieving your stress.
Clean Neglected Spaces – While we are in the practice of keeping common areas, bathrooms and our kitchen countertops clean around the house, we often forget about other places we encounter daily that can harbor germs and put us at risk of getting sick. Wipe down your desk area with disinfecting wipes containing bleach. Make sure to clean your keyboard, phone, tablet and anything that may be collecting germs. Don’t forget about your car’s interior either. If you have kids with car seats in the back, take those out and thoroughly clean all the surfaces, as well as seatbelts and other items inside the car they may have touched.
Put it Out – Smoking can increase your risk for an infection by interfering with your respiratory tract, as well as weakening your immune system. Researchers have found smoking also destroys celia, the tiny fibers in your nose that catch germs and bacteria before entering your system.
Avoid Those Who Are Sick – Although this is an obvious point, avoiding those who are coughing and sneezing is not always easy, especially with co-workers and family members who share your same space. As much as you can, limit exposure to anyone who appears to be sick. By catching a smaller infection, a compromised immune system makes you more vulnerable for getting the flu.
Add Some Garlic – Did you know garlic has antibiotic and antimicrobial (virus-fighting) properties? As a preventative measure or an early attack at the first sign of a sore throat, eating crushed garlic can help fight off the pain and irritation of a smaller infection before it becomes the full-blown flu. These special properties are released when garlic is cut, crushed or chewed.
Stay Hydrated – We have heard the general rule of thumb, eight glasses of water a day to stay hydrated. How does this apply to your immune system? If your body is properly hydrated, the mucus membranes stay moist, which helps prevent a cold or flu from developing in your nose or lungs. However, outside of water, what you drink matters. Researchers have found tea drinkers are more likely to ward off illness than coffee drinkers, with their immune system blood cells attacking illness five times faster than those of the coffee drinkers.