13 Expert Tips To Help Avoid Getting Sick This Winter
I woke up just this morning with that wonderful feeling, that I'm sure most folks get around this time of year; that itch in the back of the throat, combined with that slight bit of sniffles. Throw in a minor cough, and you're got the makings of a cold! 'Tis the season, indeed!
The fact is, winter in the northern regions of the United States will always come around. It never sneaks up on us, and it never 'magically' skips a year. Likewise with the cold and flu season, it's up to everyone to make the proper preventative measures to make sure to not suffer from the symptoms. My mistake was in not taking the upcoming cold weather seriously, because of the fact that we've had a bit of an extended fall season.
Most years, I play it safe, and do the necessary things to make sure I stay healthy all winter -- as I'm sure most people do. However, there's a few preventative measures you may not have known about; ones that are highly effective in keeping you safe and healthy all season long. Just don't make the same mistake I did, and wait until the symptoms strike to start looking into how to prevent them!
Switch From Morning Coffee To Teas
The preventative power of herbal teas, particularly green tea, has ingredients to help fight virus particles from entering your system. The ingredient, epigallocatechin gallate, can also be taken as a supplement, if you simply can't go without you're morning joe. The secret tea you may not have heard of? That would be ginger, which you can simply grate into hot water. With ginger, the characteristics combat some of the virus cells that connect with your cells to lead to either bronchiolitis, or pneumonia.
Ok, sure, this is something that many people already do. But, did you know there are ways to give those shots a boost? Simply complete a good upper body workout prior to your shot. The muscle activity from exercising will increase the body's immune response to the ingredients in the flu shot. Speaking of exercise...
Sweat It Out, Charge It Up
Exercise stimulates the body's production of epinephrine, which works to relieve nasal blockages, and increases respiration to all parts of your body. One super-duper exercise style you can use to remain healthy? Yoga. The physical activity, increased flexibility, and relaxation of a good bout of yoga gives you the ultimate immune defense boost (thanks also to the sweating). The antimicrobial peptide beta-defensin 2, can be doubled specifically during yoga -- which will combat most invading microbes during cold & flu season. Plus, yoga is a great way to improve the mind/body/spirit trifecta, important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Menthol gets a lot of love from people heading out to drugstores during the winter (think vapor rubs and such), but the characteristics in the eucalyptus leaf works in a similar fashion by putting the damper on coughs. The compound found in eucalyptus, cineole, reduces inflammation of the breathing airways, and helps to get your lungs expanding normally. Try either a eucalyptus tea, or a cineole-based supplement.
Don't Neglect Your Nasal Care
Turns out the one place most people don't cover up in cold weather, could be the most important in preventing nasal discomfort (or colds, in general). The cilia in your nostrils are fighting a months-long war against harmful pathogens, and the colder it is outside, the slower these cilia move in the battle. Keeping your nose warm with a scarf goes a long way in making sure your nose has the upper hand in preventing colds and the flu. It's also your responsibility to keep those nasal pathways moist, as winter is an incredibly dry time of the year. When the nostrils are dry inside, it's like taking their greatest weapon out of their anti-virus fight. You can use saline gels or sprays to maintain the necessary moisture.
The Sweet, Cold-Fighting Nectar: Honey
In recent studies, ingesting honey regularly helped to eradicate up to 85% of particular types of strep bacteria. Granted, 100% would be fantastic, but a few tablespoons of honey is probably the best tasting way to fight the good fight against seasonal colds! Additionally, honey has also been known to help inhibit other forms of staph, pneumonia, and salmonella bacteria.
Avoid Smoking At Any Cost
Not just by trying to break the habit yourself, but in trying to keep your distance from others that do smoke. You become far more vulnerable to flu symptoms and colds by continuing to light up during the winter, but scientists in India have discovered that small amounts of smoke being inhaled (such as second-hand smoke) can also be very damaging. It sometimes takes double the amount of time for your cilia (remember them?) to clear all the poisonous particles of cigarette smoke. This, in turn, causes an increase in susceptibility to colds and viruses.
By chewing gum, that fresh breath feeling is helping more than you'd think! There are certain gum brand that contain the ingredient xylitol, which has been known to prevent ear or sinus infections. This is because the bacteria streptococcus pneumoniae, which sounds like a tag-team of flu viruses, essentially are being blocked by the gum ingredient. Do your research before buying your next pack, and feel free to chew away!
Probiotic Food Items
Probiotics help to slow, and sometimes even destroy, the growth of certain strep bacteria. In a recent study, folks who ate a healthy amount of yogurt reduced their risk of catching the common cold or flu by 27%. You can also get the healthy benefits by adding a few fermented foods to your wintertime diet, such as sauerkraut or kimchi. The specific probiotic, lactobacillus plantarum, reduces the potency of some kinds of strep bacteria. I know that winter isn't exactly barbeque season, but that doesn't mean you still shouldn't cover hot dogs and burgers with these items!
Increase Vitamin D
The sun takes a lot more time off from doing it's health-boosting job during the cold winter months. What this means is that your vitamin D levels can be drastically lowered, decreasing your body's ability to fight off colds. Check out your local drug store, and invest in a good vitamin D supplement -- it'll go a long way to give your body the power you need, and don't get as much without the sun.
Avoid Touching Your Face
To all the office workers out there, pay attention to this one! A study in the Journal of Occupational Health reports that those of us who are known to touch either the eyes, nose, or lips are 41% more likely to develop upper-respiratory infections (colds/flu), than those who do not. And I'll let you in on a little secret, regular hand-sanitizer use is not the answer!
The 20-Second Soap 'Secret'
Look, when you wash your hands this winter, please use the soap. If not for you, do it for your co-workers and the rest of society. By not scrubbing off the potentially harmful bacteria on your hands (which, again, you may end up using to touch your face), you are far more likely to spread germs. Practice a good 20-second scrub with soap, and make sure to completely dry those hands off afterwards. This should be common-knowledge, but it needs more active participants!
Get Enough Sleep
I just simply can't stress this enough, as is the case with medical professionals nationwide. A European study done last year found that just a single workweek that averages less than four hours of sleep per night can alter the way your genes function. This is important, because this alteration changes the way your immune system responds to pathogens -- leading to, you guessed it, increased risk of getting sick. Sleep deprivation is maybe the most valuable player in a healthy lifestyle, and much has been written on the subject (at length). Please be sure to take all the necessary steps, including a good night's sleep, in order to remain your healthiest this winter.