4 Tips to Stay Healthy This Winter
With winter in full swing, it’s now that time of year where it seems like no matter where you go, there’s always someone sick with a cold not too far away. Yes, we’re in peak cold and flu season.
Catching a cold is one thing, but the flu is a far different beast. It’s not an illness where you can take a Dayquil and tough it out. Most people who catch the flu are out of school or work for more than a week, and—in more serious cases—complications can include hospitalization and even death.
Colds generally come with the standard cough and sore throat, maybe a runny nose or congestion. But the flu packs a bigger punch with all that and more including fatigue, body aches, headaches, fever, and nausea.
It should go without saying that you should keep away from people who are sick to avoid becoming sick yourself, but that’s sometimes not always possible, especially if you work directly with people. The hustle and bustle of everyday life can be distracting, so stay on top of your game and ahead of the curve with these tips to stay healthy all winter long.
Get a flu shot
The first line of defense in preventing the flu is the flu shot. This annual vaccine helps protect you from catching the flu, but it also helps protect others from catching it, too. People who are unable to get a flu shot—anyone taking immunosuppressant prescription medications, for example—or those who are more susceptible to the flu rely on the people who can get the shot to help protect them from the illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone who is able to get the flu shot get it before the season typically begins, around September or October.
But fear not: If you haven’t yet received a shot, it’s not too late. Flu shots are widely available, and you can usually obtain one for little or no cost at flu shot clinics, generally found at pharmacies.
While the flu vaccine isn’t perfect (there are many different strains of the influenza virus, and not all of them react the same way to the vaccine you receive), it does significantly lower your risk of contracting the flu, and it also lessens the severity of symptoms if you do manage to come down with it.
Wash your hands
The flu is viral and highly contagious, making it an especially easy illness to catch if you’re not careful. By washing your hands often, you limit the germs you pass onto objects or between people. But routinely washing your hands goes a long way in keeping you healthy, even outside of flu season.
Believe it or not, there are right and wrong ways to wash your hands. The best method is to use hot, soapy water while thoroughly scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. When you don’t have access to water or soap, an alcohol-based sanitizer will do in a pinch.
Keep your surroundings clean
It’s easy to pass germs from your hands onto the objects you handle daily, so keeping them (and your hands) clean will lower your likelihood of catching the flu virus.
Get into the habit of regularly cleaning things that are touched many times during the day like doorknobs, phones, light switches, counter tops, and television remotes. Using an anti-bacterial cleanser or wipe will do the trick.
Follow a healthy lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle looks different for everyone—so always consult with a physician before making any big changes—but there are some general golden rules to follow that support overall wellness in everybody.
Get enough sleep
When you’re asleep, your body is in repair mode. Getting the right amount of sleep helps your immune system function optimally. Pretty much everyone underestimates how much sleep they need, though, so aim between 7 and 9 hours each night.
Eat a healthy diet and stay hydrated
The healthier you are, the healthier your immune system becomes. Drinking plenty of fluids and eating diets rich in essential nutrients provides your body the fuel it needs to fight illnesses.
Try focusing your diet on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats, and shoot for at least 6 to 8, 8-ounce glasses of water per day. These are only standard benchmarks, of course. How much of each food group you should eat and how much water you should drink are largely dependent on your body type, activity levels, health history, and much more. Always talk with a doctor before making major changes to your diet.
Keep in mind there’s also no “superfood” that will make you immune to any particular illness. Simply following a nutritious diet and staying hydrated is enough to lower your susceptibility to infection.
Making time for at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise per day helps you feel good and stay fit while warding off illnesses like the flu and even reduces your risk for chronic diseases.
Fitting dedicated exercise into your day might seem difficult, time-consuming, or costly, but it doesn’t need to be. There are plenty of ways to incorporate more activity into life without breaking the bank or sacrificing your schedule. Taking a walk around the block, choosing the stairs when you can, or doing a few sit-ups when you wake up can be all it takes to keep your defenses high for fighting off infection.
In today’s day and age, stress seems almost inevitable. The consequences of stress are far-reaching, but it also negatively impacts your ability to fight the cold and flu.
Structured activities like yoga or meditation are helpful for many people to de-stress, but stepping out for some fresh air, taking deep breaths, calling a friend, or simply doing something you like to do might be all it takes to help you re-focus, relax, and keep your immune system strong.
Don’t feel guilty for needing some TLC. You deserve it.
Tying it all together
Even by implementing all of these tips, it’s still possible to catch the flu. So, all of this being said, the best thing you can do for yourself—and others—if you do fall ill is to stay home and recover. With flu season predicted to get worse in the coming weeks, now’s the time to begin working in the habits you need to stay healthy this flu season and beyond.