By Kimberly Blaker
The medical field has long known people are more prone to catching colds and the flu during the cold winter months. Previously, scientists primarily attributed this to people living and breathing together in enclosed environments. But cold temperatures also make our immune system sluggish and prevent our bodies from fighting off infection. This is according to a 2015 PBS report, “Scientists Finally Prove Why Cold Weather Makes You Sick.”
So follow these tips to stave off colds and the flu this winter.
1. Keep your home warm
Maintaining warmth is essential to ward off winter-related illnesses. So keep your home temperature comfortably warm by setting your thermostat between 68 and 75 °F. Optimum daytime temperatures for living areas are 70 to 72 °F. At night, set the thermostat just a couple of degrees cooler for your bedrooms. What’s comfortable varies from person-to-person. So if you feel cold at 72 °F, turn it up a notch or two. The idea is to remain comfortable.
2. Dress in layers
Layer your clothing, whether you’re at home or heading out. Wear a T-shirt or cami, long-sleeved shirt or blouse, and a sweater over the top. This way, you can set your thermostat at a moderate temperature and peel off layers to maintain the perfect comfort level. Layers will also ensure you maintain comfort if you go out.
When you do leave the house, wear warm boots, gloves, and a hat even if you’ll be outside just briefly. We lose most of our body heat through the extremities. So it’s vital to keep those areas warm.
3. Eat healthily
A healthy diet is essential year-round. But during the cold winter months, certain foods are particularly beneficial to the immune system.
The much-criticized starchy potato is an excellent source of nutrition. It’s high in vitamins B6 and C, both of which boost immunity.
Collards, kale, and chard, among other dark leafy greens, are high in vitamins A, C, and K.
Winter squash, including pumpkin, butternut, spaghetti, and acorn, is high in beta-carotene. Our bodies convert beta-carotene to vitamin A, another vital source that boosts the immune system.
Several fruits are also particularly beneficial and protect against winter-related ailments. Citrus fruits are a rich source of vitamin C. Kiwi packs even more of a ‘C’ punch than oranges. Other fruits that help keep your immune system strong include pomegranates, blueberries, cherries, and even bananas.
4. Drink plenty of water
Dehydration causes a host of health complications. Despite this, most people don’t drink nearly enough water. As a result, health experts say they’re in a state of chronic dehydration.
So how much water should you drink each day? A commonly repeated recommendation is eight 8-ounce glasses per day. But why would a 100-pound inactive woman need the same intake as an active 220-pound man?
It turns out there’s a formula to determine how much water you should consume. Divide your weight by 2.2. Next, if you’re between age 30 to 55, multiply by 35; and if older than 55, multiply by 30. Now divide your result by 28.3 for the number of ounces you should drink daily. Divide this by 8 to determine the number of cups.
5. Wash your hands
One of the best ways to reduce the spread of germs is by washing your hands regularly. This not only reduces the risk of transferring your bacteria to others. It reduces the risk that you’ll transfer bacteria to yourself.
When someone with a cold or the flu touches a doorknob, handrail, or other objects, their germs get transferred to the object. Bacteria can survive this way for several hours. If you come along and touch the germ-ridden object, the bacteria transfer to your hands. Then when you scratch your nose or grab a cookie to eat, you become infected.
So when you wash your hands, use soap and warm water. Rub between your fingers and underneath your fingernails. Then rinse your hands well and dry them thoroughly. In public restrooms, use a paper towel to turn off the water and open the restroom door after you’ve washed your hands.
An active lifestyle is crucial to a healthy heart, lungs, and bones. But a moderately active lifestyle also improves your immune system, according to a 2010 study cited in “Exercise and Respiratory Tract Viral Infections.” Prolonged intense exercise suppresses the immune system, however.
So the key is to exercise regularly but in moderation. Unless you’re trying out for the Olympics, a 20-mile run won’t likely serve you well. Instead, opt for a brisk walk for 30 – 60 minutes each day. If you want to do something more vigorous, do 20-30 minute runs or aerobic workouts three to four times a week with weight lifting in between.
7. Avoid public places during outbreaks
When you hear of the flu or virus outbreak in your area, stay home if possible. Avoid public places in particular. This will serve double duty by keeping you out of the cold that makes you more susceptible.
8. Take an antiviral medication
If you’re exposed to the flu, be proactive and nip it in the bud with a prescription for Relenza or Tamiflu. The only catch is there’s a short window of opportunity for these medications to be effective. These treatments must begin within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. So as soon as you feel signs of the flu coming on, call your doctor. If your doctor can’t see you right away, go to an urgent care.
9. Get a massage
According to a 2010 study for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Swedish massage increases lymphocytes, which improve the effectiveness of the immune system. So now you have the perfect excuse to treat yourself to a massage! If regular massages aren’t in your budget, trade massages with your partner to help stave off illness.
10. Get your z’s
When we sleep, our bodies release cytokines, which promote sleep. Certain cytokines also ward off infection. When we don’t get enough sleep, we’re deprived of the protective cytokines, leaving us more susceptible to infection.
Sleep requirements vary from person to person. But adults typically need seven to eight hours.