It’s that time of year again when cold and flu viruses are rampant and there always seems to be somebody coughing or sneezing.
While they can’t help being unwell and inadvertently spreading these germs, there are some preventative measures that you can take to reduce your risk of catching a cold or flu virus.
Just follow these ten simple steps.
1. Good Hand Hygiene
This may sound like an obvious one, but only a third of people wash their hands at least six times a day.
What’s more, many folks don’t wash their hands adequately.
Virologist, Professor John Oxford recommends washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water.
But how often is regularly?
Well, it’s definitely a good idea to wash your hands after using the toilet and before meals.
And it’s also wise to wash your hands when you have been outside since you’re likely to come into contact with germs.
Did you know that cold particles can stay on surfaces for up to 24 hours?
And flu particles 48 hours?
This is why it’s important to wash your hands after being outside.
Public transport, seating areas, and shop counters are perfect places for these germs to linger.
It’s also best to avoid touching your face when you’re outside as well because it’s a common way of picking up cold and flu viruses.
2. Open the Window
Another way of passing on cold and flu is through the air.
In Winter, flu particles linger around for longer. And we end up breathing them in because we’re less likely to open the windows.
Research shows that if you’re traveling in a car with the windows closed for 90 minutes with someone who has the flu, the likelihood of getting it is a whopping 99.9 percent.
However, if you make that same journey with the window open your chance of catching the flu drops down to 20 percent.
These infection rates also apply to buildings so be sure to open the windows at home and work so cold and flu particles can escape.
3. Take a Vitamin D supplement
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to a weakened immune system and susceptibility to respiratory tract infections.
Respiratory tract infections include cold and flu viruses as well as bronchitis and pneumonia.
A large study that included more than 10,000 participants from 14 countries found that taking vitamin D on a regular basis can reduce respiratory tract infections.
It’s worth noting, however, that the reduction rate was only 12 percent.
Although many of the researchers felt the finding was significant enough to recommend that the supplement be added to food.
Researchers also concluded that those deficient in vitamin D and those with asthma are most likely to benefit from taking the supplement.
4. Avoid Excessive Exercise
While exercise is good for your body and mind, too much can leave you with a weakened immune system.
If you engage in high-intensity training for 90 minutes or longer you are more susceptible to infections.
In fact, evidence shows that you could be susceptible for three days after an intense workout.
This is because the stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline which are released during extended endurance training, suppress the immune system.
Athletes who participate in running marathons and ironman challenges are especially more susceptible to viruses.
However, moderate exercise is beneficial when it comes to boosting your immunity because it increases the cells that fight bacteria.
5. Reduce Your Sugar Intake
A lot of people are addicted to sugar because it tastes good and it gives many of us a short burst of much-needed energy.
But it can also increase our risk of being unwell because sugar is known to suppress the immune system – quickly.
For instance, a large soda can suppress your immune system within 30 minutes, and the effects can last for as long as five hours.
What’s more, some studies have shown that immune system function can be reduced by up to 50 percent.
So if you want to boost your immunity, it’s well worth reducing your sugar intake.
If you find it hard to say no to sugary drinks and snacks, you could reduce the amount of unhealthy sugars you’re consuming and increase your consumption of natural sugars by eating more fruit.
6. Aim for at Least Seven Hours of Sleep
Getting enough sleep is paramount for your mental and physical wellbeing.
During sleep, your body switches off while your brain carries out its ‘maintenance work’ so that you can function optimally in the daytime.
Sleep is also vital for good health.
Too little sleep can affect your cardiovascular system, and lower your body’s ability to fight off infections.
One large study which included 22,000 Americans showed that getting less than seven hours of sleep increases your risk of getting a cold by 200 percent.
Granted, it’s not always easy to get adequate sleep especially as we’re all so busy with work and family commitments.
But if you can, it’s definitely worth aiming for seven or more hours of sleep most nights.
Stress, especially long-term stress can play havoc with your overall health.
This is because when you are stressed your body produces more of the stress hormone, cortisol.
And over time it causes inflammation in the body and your immune responses can be impaired as a result.
Although you may not be able to change what is causing you stress, you can give yourself a bit of a break from it by doing these five activities.
- Breathing exercises to calm your body and mind
- Listen to relaxing music
- Talk with a friend
- Enjoy a hobby
- Watch a funny film or your favorite comedian
Another thing to consider is reducing your caffeine consumption.
While a small dose of caffeine can make you feel good, too much can make you stressed and anxious.
Instead of reaching for a cup of coffee or an energy drink try chamomile or green tea.
Chamomile tea helps to calm down your nervous system, and green tea has shown to inhibit viruses like the flu.
8. Eat Fruit and Vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are nutritious, high in vitamins and play an important role in immune function.
There are a number of studies that support this.
One large study shows a direct link between low fruit and veg intake and hospital admission for influenza.
The American study conducted in 2010 reported that there would be an eight percent increase in hospitalizations due to some patients not eating enough fruit and vegetables.
This highlights to importance of eating at least five portions of fruit and veg a day.
So, if your fruit bowl and vegetable rack is empty be sure to stock up next time you’re at the supermarket.
9. Think Positive
A positive attitude isn’t just good for morale; it could also be good for your health too.
A 2003 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine reports that those who are happy, energetic and relaxed are less likely to catch colds.
Researchers interviewed 300 participants three times a week for a two week period. They were asked to rate their mood then they were exposed to a cold virus.
The results showed that people with a sunnier disposition exhibited fewer signs of having a cold.
This, along with other research just proves what many of us already thought: that the mind and body are inextricably linked.
And anyone can choose to have a positive outlook.
If you would like to find out more about how you can cultivate a positive mindset then read this article.
10. Get a Flu Jab
Getting a seasonal flu jab is a highly effective way to reduce your likelihood of getting a flu virus.
In fact, it’s estimated that it reduces it by as much as 40 to 60 percent.
What’s more, it helps to prevent severe flu in the elderly and reduces serious complications in children by around 60 percent.
This means fewer hospital admissions and better health.
If you want to find out more about the flu vaccine click here if you live in the U.S.
And here if you live in the UK.
Alternatively you could discuss it further with your health care provider.