It's that time of the year when the temperature starts to drop, winter weather is setting in, and more and more people are coming down with a cold or flu. It is important to stay healthy during the colder months of the year, but this is not always easy, particularly as you are increasingly exposed to others who are sick, whether it is that person who comes to work despite being ill, or your kids returning from school with the sniffles.
Flu season in the US occurs in the fall and winter and usually peaks between December and January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since 2010, the CDC estimates between 140,000 and 170,000 people are hospitalized each year as a result of the flu. Fortunately, there are a several ways to reduce the chance you will catch the flu or get a cold…
1. Exercise regularly
We all know regular exercise is good for your health, but did you know it can help boost the immune system and help you avoid infection? A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found people who exercise regularly are less likely to develop a cold or the flu.
According to the World Health Organization, adults between 18 and 64 years of age should get at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical exercise each week. As well as helping fend off infection, regular exercise is also beneficial in preventing a host of other medical conditions, including stroke, coronary heart disease, diabetes type 2 and depression.
Furthermore, regular exercise can help reduce stress levels and accelerates the circulation of white blood cells, which help the body fight diseases such as the common cold.
2. Eat healthily
Don't skimp on those green vegetables this winter! Having a healthy and balanced diet helps keep the body strong and ready to fight off infections. Make sure you are getting all the important vitamins and consider adding more fruit and vegetables to your diet.
Which vitamins do I need?
All vitamins are important components of a balanced diet and for maintaining good health and certain vitamins may help stave off cold and flu or help speed up recovery. Vitamin C, found in oranges, strawberries, broccoli, kale, and many other vegetables, is often recommended as a remedy for the common cold, although research is mixed as to whether it actually helps as a means of prevention or cure. Despite this, some studies suggest vitamin C can be beneficial when you are sick, helping to shorten the duration of the ailment.
Research also suggests vitamin D could lower the risk of infection and the common cold. Analysis of clinical trials involving people taking vitamin D supplements revealed a link between supplementation and a reduction in the proportion of people having an “acute respiratory infection”. However, there is still some debate among medical professionals and researchers as to how effective vitamin D is in preventing the common cold.
Zinc is also associated with the prevention of the common cold. Often taken in the form of zinc lozenges, this mineral helps the body fight off infection. For treatment of the common cold, try taking zinc lozenges as soon as cold symptoms start to appear. However, if you already have sufficient zinc in your diet, there is little evidence that zinc supplements help treat the common cold.
Ultimately, supplements can be useful in boosting your vitamin and mineral levels, but it is more important to eat healthily, as this should provide you with all the vitamins and minerals needed to maintain good health, support your immune system and help you get well quickly if you do succumb to the common cold or flu.
3. Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is essential for the body's healing processes and for preventing illness. It allows time for the body to recover from ailments and to ensure the immune system remains strong. Eight hours is usually the recommended amount of sleep for an average adult, but when you are ill or are under significant stress, more may be beneficial.
Tips for sleeping well with a cold or the flu
If you struggle with congestion, try using a vaporizer or humidifier at night to loosen congestion and help you breathe more easily.
Be careful with your medication! Some cold and flu medications contain caffeine and other active ingredients that will keep you awake.
Gargle with warm salt water before bed, particularly if you struggle with a sore throat and hacking cough.
Prepare for bed properly. Stick to a schedule, turn off all electronics and screens and consider having a bath or shower before heading to bed.
4. Wash your hands and stay clean!
Hygiene is vital in preventing infection. There are many ways to contract a cold or the flu from others who are already ill, such as shaking hands, sharing food, and touching surfaces infected with germs. Carry a bottle of hand sanitizer and use it regularly to minimize the chance you will spread germs or contract a virus. If you have bacteria on your hands, it is all too easy to spread it to the rest of your body if you touch your face or mouth.
5. Consider a flu vaccine
It may seem obvious, but this is one of the simplest precautions you can take to protect yourself against the flu. For the 2018-19 flu season, there are several flu vaccine options:
Standard dose flu shots - generally administered with an injection.
High-dose shots - these are appropriate for older people who are at a higher risk from the flu
Adjuvant shots - and adjuvant is a vaccine ingredient that promotes a stronger immune response. Vaccines such as FLUAD are adjuvant shots and they are specifically designed with people over 65 years of age in mind.
Recombinant vaccines - do not use the flu virus in the vaccine
LAIV - The live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) is administered via a nasal spray and is approved for non-pregnant individuals between two and 49 years of age.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over six months of age is vaccinated against the flu, particularly those considered high risk of serious complications from influenza, including children under five and particularly those under two, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes, and individuals with certain medical conditions, such as, asthma, heart disease, chronic lung disease, kidney disorders, immune system problems, and extreme obesity.
Tom Price, MD, secretary of the US Health and Human Services Department, stated: "Vaccination can help prevent you or someone you love from becoming sick and missing school, or work, or worse, becoming severely ill or being hospitalized from or even dying from the flu."
Make sure you get your flu vaccine this year and take all the necessary steps to protect you and your family against cold and flu this season.