Do These 6 Things Before Cold and Flu Season To Help Keep You Healthy
From Women’s Health
No matter what you do, cold and flu season shows up every year. And the 2020-2021 season is going to be a little different, thanks to the global pandemic. The big concern is how COVID-19 cases will impact hospitals and the medical supplies usually reserved for cold and flu season, says registered nurse Angela Patterson, DNP, FNP-BC, the chief nurse practitioner officer at MinuteClinic and vice president of CVS Health. “America’s ERs and critical care units are stressed with caring for COVID-19 patients, and that’s likely to get worse as we head into the winter months,” she says.
While you can’t do anything to stop cold and flu season from coming, there are some steps you can take to make sure you’re as healthy as possible going into it. No shocker here: Trying to live a healthy lifestyle will help give you an edge. “Adopting a healthy lifestyle helps to boost your body’s immunity and promotes your ability to fight off seasonal illnesses like influenza, pneumonia, and the common cold,” says Patterson.
Read on to learn what habits can help keep you as healthy as possible, in addition to steps you can take to keep germs away.
1. Get your flu shot. Seriously.
It’s really important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says on its website that getting vaccinated against the flu is “more important than ever” this year, both to protect you and the people around you from the flu, and to help reduce the strain on healthcare systems during the pandemic.
“If you have not yet received your flu shot, it’s important that you get vaccinated immediately,” Patterson says.
While you can technically get your flu shot at any point during cold and flu season, the CDC specifically recommends getting your flu shot by the end of October. Vaccines are widely available at doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and community health centers. To find a location near you check out the CDC’s Vaccine Finder.
2. Eat for your immune system.
“Adopting a well-balanced diet that includes foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals will help to boost your immune system and fight off cold and flu germs,” Patterson says.
Certain vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc, may impact how well your immune system works to help fight off infections, according to the CDC. They specifically recommend getting these nutrients by eating fruits and vegetables (vitamin C), low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified milk alternatives (vitamin D), seafood (vitamin D and zinc), and lean meat, legumes, nuts, and seeds (zinc).
3. Work up a sweat.
“It’s been shown in many scientific studies that those who exercise regularly are less likely to develop colds and flu,” Patterson says. The link between having a good immune system and exercise isn’t entirely clear, but the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spells out some theories on why exercising on the reg might help:
It may help flush bacteria out of your lungs and airways, lowering your risk of getting a cold, flu, or other illness.
Exercise increases the circulation of antibodies and white blood cells in your blood, which both fight disease. It’s thought that when these antibodies and white blood cells circulate more rapidly, they can help detect illnesses faster.
The brief rise in your body temperature during and right after you exercise may help prevent bacteria from growing, and might help your body fight infection better.
Exercise slows down the release of stress hormones, and having fewer stress hormones may help ward off illnesses.
4. Keep your drinking in check.
There’s a myth floating around that drinking alcohol kills germs—the World Health Organization even addresses it online—but that’s not true. “Alcoholic drinks do not kill germs, and having too much alcohol might lead to other kinds of sickness that will weaken your body’s immune system,” Patterson says.
Research has found that alcohol can spark inflammation in your gut and damage micro-organisms that help keep your immune system healthy. And one Emory University review found that people who drink excessively are at risk of developing severe lung diseases, like pneumonia and adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
You don’t need to totally swear off your go-to wine to be healthy, though. It’s more about keeping yourself in check when it comes to frequency. FWIW: The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends having no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. (Portion size matters, too. Here’s a reminder of a standard drink size for all your fave bevvies.)
5. Get some sleep.
Lack of sleep doesn’t just make you feel crummy—it also impacts your immune system’s ability to ward off viruses. Studies have found that lack of sleep increases your risk of getting infectious diseases, along with heart disease and cancer. “Research has shown that getting a good night’s sleep promotes the effectiveness of T cells in the body—supercells in the body that attack foreign pathogens,” Patterson says.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that most adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.
6. Practice good social hygiene.
One overall note: All of the known strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 can also help lower your risk of catching a cold or the flu, and vice versa, Patterson says. “Now, more than ever, it is important to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds,” she says. “Stay home if you feel ill and try to avoid large crowds as much as possible.” When you can, try to stay at least six feet away from others and wear a mask when that’s not possible, per CDC recommendations.
There’s only so much you can do to lower your risk of catching a cold or the flu, but doing your best to take care of yourself in advance will go a long way toward helping keep you, and those around you, healthy.
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