The flu season is fast approaching—the other day while at a stoplight I was sandwiched in between two people who were coughing incessantly—but fortunately science has given us ways to get through the winter months with fewer sick days. In terms of preventing the flu, getting a flu shot—surprise—is a must-do.
So if you haven’t gotten your flu shot, do it. Now. Preventing a cold is a different matter. Unlike the flu, there is no shot you can get for a cold, but there are ways to strengthen your immune system. Whether it’s a cold or flu, here are the essential elements to help prevent getting sick.
Why worry about things out of your control? Studies repeatedly show that chronic stress weakens the immune system, leaving it vulnerable to getting a cold. Exercise and mindfulness are great ways to reduce stress. Regular exercise helps increase your body’s natural virus-killing cells, and mindfulness helps you be more present in the moment instead of letting the moment control you.
Wash, wash, wash
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times—and for good reason. Washing your hands regularly is one of the best ways to prevent a cold. Since viruses are spread by a body part coming in contact with a virus—for instance, by our hands, which end up touching our face or lips—washing your hands become paramount. Viruses enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth.
Fruits and veggies
This is a no-brainer. A recent usnews.com health article reviewed research concluding that polyphenols—a type of micronutrient found in plant foods—might help the body fight off or treat the flu. Some great sources of polyphenol-rich foods include blueberries, onions, green tea, cherries and soybeans.
In addition, dark, leafy greens such as spinach, kale and Swiss chard are rich in phytochemicals, which contain strong doses of vitamin in food form. If you’re eating a well-balanced diet, there is no reason to take a multivitamin supplement. Eating whole foods rich in vitamins works synergistically with your body, strengthening the immune system.
A multi-vitamin pill doesn’t come close to affecting the body in the same way.
Curb smoking and alcohol
Even being around smoke harms the body’s immune system, according to webmd.com, and heavy drinking—it’s not as much as you think—taxes the immune system in a variety of ways—none for the good.