Protect Yourself to Prevent Colds and Flu
During the late fall and throughout winter, most people are cooped up inside, often times sharing space with others who may be sneezing and sniffling. You may not be able to completely prevent colds and flu this time of year, but by practicing good hygiene and being careful to avoid cold germs, you may escape cold and flu season unscathed.
Get a Flu Vaccine
Getting a seasonal flu vaccine is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself against the flu viruses going around each year. Head to your doctor early on in flu season (as soon as the vaccine is available) and get yourself vaccinated. While flu activity usually peaks in January and February, it can continue all the way into May. Studies have found that in healthy adults, the flu vaccine can decrease the chances of coming down with the flu by as much as 70 percent to 90 percent. But unfortunately, the flu vaccine can't completely prevent flu in everyone. Though there's still a chance you could get sick, the flu vaccine can lessen the severity and duration of your symptoms.
Wash Hands Frequently
Another of the most effective ways to prevent colds and the flu is simply washing your hands properly and frequently. “Wash your hands a lot, and encourage those around you to wash their hands,” says Nancy Elder, MD, associate professor and director of research in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. This will help to get rid of cold germs you pick up from doorknobs and stair rails, and keep you from getting them into your body. One study found that college students who washed hands frequently had fewer cold and flu symptoms.
Wipe Down Germy Areas
It's probably common sense not to shake a sick person's hands when you want to prevent a cold - but that's far from the only place that you can pick up cold germs. A recent study looked for the presence of viruses on classroom surfaces and found that the flu virus was found on as many as 50 percent of surfaces. So take some time when you clean up your office or home to wipe down germy areas - light switches, doorknobs, your phone, your computer, and your TV remote - with your favorite cleaning product. Minimizing exposure to germs can help prevent colds and the flu.
Whether you're nibbling on finger foods or you're a nail biter, your hands have a habit of finding their way into your mouth, not to mention your nose, and eyes - all areas where germs can enter the body. And if you haven't recently made it to a sink to scrub your hands, you're inoculating yourself with those cold germs. To prevent cold and flu viruses, don't touch “your eyes, nose, or mouth with your hands,” says Dr. Elder. This is how germs get inside your body and grow into an upper respiratory infection. You should also encourage others not to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth with their hands to help prevent cold and flu viruses from spreading.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
General good health practices keep your body strong and ready to fend off cold germs and the flu virus. And that includes drinking plenty of water. In fact, one recent study found that staying hydrated may boost a particular immune response to enable your body to better fight the viruses. Stay hydrated by drinking a lot of fluids, especially water, and by avoiding caffeinated drinks. Shoot for six to eight glasses of water per day, more if the weather is hot, says Elder.
Exercise to Strengthen Your Immunity
Exercise not only makes you feel great and helps you stay fit, but it also boosts your immune system and can help prevent cold and flu viruses from making you sick. Additionally, warding off extra weight is important for overall health, particularly when it comes to preventing colds and flu. A recent study found that overweight and obese people were more likely to fall ill or be injured, and researchers determined that higher BMI indicated an increased risk of injury and illness.
Probiotics are “good” bacteria that can help keep the body healthy and protect it from “bad” bacteria - and there's even some thought that taking probiotics may help to prevent cold and flu viruses. In fact, a recent study found that regular use of probiotics kept people healthier and reduced the incidence of upper respiratory infections (like the common cold). Consider eating foods that contain probiotics or taking probiotic supplements to prevent flu.
Buy a Bottle of Hand Sanitizer
Let's face it, you can't always get to a sink when you need to wash germs off of your hands. So keeping a bottle of hand sanitizer handy is a good idea to help disinfect hands and prevent flu and cold viruses. One study of university students found that keeping hands clean with hand sanitizer reduced the incidence of upper respiratory illnesses.
Eat Healthy Foods
A healthy diet can strengthen your immune system - and help you prevent flu and cold viruses from attacking. “Fruits, vegetables, low-fat proteins, and complex carbohydrates are the keys to good nutrition that will stoke your immune system,” says Elder. A recent study found that providing seniors with plenty of nutrients powered their immune systems and helped them to prevent the flu virus.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Getting enough shut-eye each night offers bigger benefits than staying awake during a long afternoon at the office. Studies have found that getting enough sleep is essential for healthy immune function, and that insufficient sleep or poor sleep quality is associated with lowered immune function. So that means catching enough zzz's at night can help prevent cold and flu viruses from slowing you down.