Preventing Colds & Flu This Season

There may not be snow blowing just yet this season but soon there will be more people blowing their noses and getting sick due to colds or the flu.

Now is the time put your health first by arming yourself with cold-ceasing and flu-fighting preventative practices making it easier and less likely you’ll catch a virus during the peak season of colds and flu – January and February.

Arming your immune system with a regular routine of healthy habits can make a huge difference particularly for older adults since our immune system tends to weaken with age.

We may consider the common cold to be more of a nuisance than a health threat but this rhinovirus is the leading cause of workplace absences and can lead to complications such as bronchitis, strep throat, and pneumonia.  As temperatures drop in the coming weeks and more of us spend time indoors close to other people, a cold infection can spread more easily making it common for most of us to catch a cold one to three times a year.

Influenza, also known as the flu, tends to be more seasonal and serious.  Each year, between 5% and 20% of Americans contract the flu and 200,000 will have to be hospitalized.  The month of November tends to be when flu season gets its’ annual start and can last until March. 

To avoid and reduce your risk of developing a cold or the flu, follow these simple steps boosting your immune system giving you extra protection from their grip:

·         Get a flu shot

Soon, there will be the annual reminders to be vaccinated against the flu – the more people who do so, the less chance of a large proportion of the population being infected.  Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after immunization providing protection against infection with the viruses in the vaccine.  Currently, about 70% of older adults are vaccinated.  Unfortunately, because each year there is a different virus causing the flu, no flu vaccine is 100% effective.  But, it is still important to help in reducing flu-related risks that can result in hospitalizations and death,

·         Exercise to boost immunity

Exercise is being viewed more than ever as a preventative medicine.  It not only reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, reduces risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, but it can give an extra boost to the immune system.  A strong immune system is vital in warding off germs and microbes wanting to cause us harm.  Exercise increases circulation and blood flow throughout the body creating a situation where the immunes system is better at finding an illness before it spreads.  It you haven’t already, get started now an exercise routine to reduce your risk of getting sick this season.

·         Vitamin D for strong immunity

Vitamin D is important for immune health.  Some studies have shown there is a link between people with low vitamin D status and the increased risk of developing the flu.  Vitamin D works in the immune system by reducing levels of inflammatory proteins called cytokines as well as increasing antimicrobial proteins that can destroy invading germs and viruses.  The combination of lowering inflammation and increasing antimicrobial defenses helps the immune system to fight infections more effectively. 

Consume food sources high in vitamin D, spend some time in the sun and consider taking a supplement of vitamin D3 to enhance your vitamin D status. 

·         Protect yourself by eating lots of produce

Produce – fruits and veggies – are the necessary foods to load up on antioxidants, vitamins and minerals strengthening the immune system to fight off infections. Produce does not have to be entirely fresh, as frozen and even canned sources can be good for you.  Stock your freezer with frozen berries to put on steaming oatmeal in the morning or blend into a smoothie.  Add fresh, canned or frozen veggies to soups, stews, and stir-fry dishes.  Canned beans are another source of valuable nutritious vitamins and minerals keeping you healthy all winter long.

·         Keep hydrated

Water is always a great choice but there are other healthy flu-fighting beverages that are alternatives to water – green or turmeric tea, coffee, 100% juices – all can help reduce inflammation, provide antioxidants, and prevent dehydration.  Each day, aim for at least 6-8 cups of fluids to keep you feeling your best.

·         Frequent handwashing

One of the top ways of preventing and spreading germs is frequent handwashing.  This is a must to protect yourself and others when coming into contact with contaminated surfaces or touching other people.  Use plain soap and warm water to scrub off potential microbes wanting to cause you harm.  The proper way to wash hands is to rub your hands together getting in-between each finger and under the nails for at least 20 seconds to eliminate germs.  Keep your hands away from your face as much as possible by avoiding rubbing your eyes or touching your nose and mouth. 

·         Adequate sleep and rest

A very important natural remedy against colds and flu is proper sleep and rest.  Scientists at the University of Washington have linked a brain-specific protein associated with sleep to the ability to fight off symptoms of the flu.  Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep each night to support a healthy immune system.