Its actually not the cold weather that makes us sick, but the fact that we're all suddenly spending a lot more time indoors, in close contact with lots of other people, allowing diseases to spread like wildfire. Schools, in particular, are extremely efficient incubators of all sorts of diseases. From there, the kids pass it on to their parents, who in turn pass it on to their co-workers. Its a vicious cycle.
No one like to get sick, so the question is: What can we do to avoid getting sick? Quite a lot, actually!
The Commonsense Basics
>>> Wash your hands thoroughly and often. Hopefully, everyone realizes the importance of hand-washing, so I won't waste time trying to sell you on the idea. Instead, let's define "thoroughly" and "often." Thoroughly: wash your hands with soap and warm water, vigorously rubbing them together for at least twenty seconds. Then dry your hands completely. How often: *VERY* - when you wake up, before each meal and snack, after going to the restroom, after coughing or sneezing on your hands, after handling money, after being around sick people, after shaking hands with someone, after handling keyboards, after using door handles, and before going to bed. Make especially sure to wash your hands after handling phones - public phones, including your house phone and office phone, are among the most germ-encrusted objects you will ever encounter, worse even than public toilet seats according to several studies.
Hand sanitizers are okay in a pinch, but are less effective than soap and water; use them until you can get to the nearest wash-basin.
>>> Get plenty of sleep. Unfortunately, modern civilization is a 24/7 event these days, and many folks now brag about how little sleep they need and still be able to get by. You might be able to "get by" with less, but research proves that adults, and their immune systems, actually need at least 8 hours of sleep to perform at optimal levels. For example, a 2009 Carnegie Mellon study found that adults who get less than seven hours of sleep are three times more likely to get sick, than adults who get at least 8 hours.
>>> Drink plenty of water. When you are dehydrated, it dries out and reduces the effectiveness of the watery, protective surfaces lining your mouth, throat, eyes, lungs, stomach, and intestines. Stay hydrated!
>>> Eat a healthy diet, including lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, and other nutritious foods. Avoid overdoing sugar and alcohol, as both are known to negatively impact the immune system. Modern, processed foods are typically loaded with lots of sugar of various types, so you may likely be consuming too much sugar even if you avoid sweets - pay attention to labels. Many condiments, such as catsups and salad dressings, are often loaded with sugar AND people typically use more than one "official" serving, thus multiplying the amount of sugar they're getting without realizing it. If you drink alcohol, stick to one glass of red wine a day.
>>> Get plenty of exercise. Exercise pumps up the immune system by boosting the production of disease-fighting white blood cells. It also floods the body with stress-reducing hormones, and less stress means a more efficient immune system.
Additional Steps To Take
>>> Learn to relax. Stress, particularly long-term stress, leads to an overproduction of a class of hormones called glucocorticoids, which suppress the immune system. Exercise, yoga, meditation, listening to calming music, prayer, participating in a hobby, or just quietly reading can all be wonderful ways to relax.
>>> Sanitize the surfaces in your life - keyboards, door handles, phones, etc. - at home and at work. I personally use Lysol Disinfecting Wipes almost daily to wipe down my desk, keyboard, mouse, and house phone. They also work great for door knobs. However, for my Samsung Galaxy, I use a screen cleaner such as Screen Mom since I'm worried about messing up the touch screen.
>>> Don't bite your nails. Think about it: the small gaps under your nails make great breeding grounds for germs, and are easy to not clean well when washing your hands.
>>> Make sure your getting enough vitamins and minerals. This is best done by eating a healthy diet, but a daily vitamin & mineral supplement may add some additional insurance. An article by the Harvard Medical School recently mentioned that deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E can negatively impact the immune system.
>>> Wear a surgical mask in public. Taking the bus, train, subway, or otherwise hanging around a large crowd of people in tight quarters? Take a clue from the Japanese and wear a surgical mask. This will help you not spread your own germs and help you avoid the germs of other people. (They are also great dust and pollen blockers for those suffering from allergies.) This isn't as common in America as it is in Asia, so you'll likely get a lot of strange looks. But, is it really effective? Actually, yes. According to a study published in The International Journal of Infectious Diseases (December 2008 issue, page e328), surgical masks have a protective efficacy of over 80% against respiratory illnesses like colds and influenza.
>>> Get a flu shot, or don't. I'm not going to tell you what to do on this one - its up to you. People on both sides of the debate have strong feelings when it comes to vaccines. Pro-vaccine people point to the success of vaccinations with wiping out diseases like polio and smallpox, and fervently believe that modern vaccines are safe. Anti-vaccine people point to a lot of anecdotal evidence that vaccines can cause various problems such as autism and infertility, and they don't trust corporations or the government to tell the truth about the safety of vaccinations. And a third set of folks believe that vaccines are generally safe, but that we are way over-medicating ourselves, which could create unintended consequences. Therefore, they are reluctant to take every recommended vaccine that comes on the market. Decide for yourself. Need more information to decide? Check out:
Vaccinations: A Thoughtful Parent's Guide: How to Make Safe, Sensible Decisions about the Risks, Benefits, and Alternatives, discusses the pros and cons of vaccinations in a fairly even-handed way.
The blurb: "Midwife, herbalist, and mother of four, Aviva Jill Romm sifts through the spate of current research on vaccine safety and efficacy and offers a sensible, balanced discussion of the pros and cons of each routine childhood vaccination. She presents the full spectrum of options available to parents: full vaccination on a standardized or individualized schedule, selective vaccination, or no vaccinations at all. Negotiating daycare and school requirements, dealing with other parents, and traveling with an unvaccinated child are covered in detail. The book also suggests ways to strengthen children's immune systems and maintain optimal health and offers herbal and homeopathic remedies for childhood ailments. Emphasizing that no single approach is appropriate for every child, the author guides parents as they make the choices that are right for their child." Available on Amazon.
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