With up to 20% of the population reporting flu-like symptoms every year, it’s easy to see why doctors’ offices and drugstores promote getting a flu shot as soon as flu season starts. But whether you choose to get a flu shot or not, there are several highly effective natural steps you can take to minimize your risk of contracting winter colds and flu.
Most of us are aware that flu season begins in the fall and continues throughout winter. But why are cold temperatures associated with higher rates of illness? There are several likely reasons.
First, colder temperatures and dry winter air allow viruses to live longer outside the human body. Second, clinical trials have proven an association between low vitamin D levels and reduced immunity. A lack of regular sun exposure means that most people’s vitamin D levels drop in winter. Combine that with the longer-living viruses, and it’s no surprise there’s an increase in illness this time of year.
Seasonal stress levels may also play a role: Worrying about holiday preparations, stressing over travel plans, and exposing yourself to unusual bacteria and viruses by mingling with strangers at holiday events can tax your immune system, leaving you vulnerable.
So what’s the solution?
NATURAL WAYS TO AVOID COLDS AND FLU
Take health into your own hands this season with these natural immunity boosters:
- Wash hands thoroughly.
This one is obvious, but warrants repeating. Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly is one of the most effective tactics at preventing illness and infection. Here’s how to do it right: Using soap and clean water, lather up for a solid 20 seconds, ensuring that you cover your palms, backs of hands, between fingers, and under fingernails.
- Disinfect shared surfaces.
Just because you wash your hands doesn’t mean everyone else does. Shared surfaces ― bathrooms, countertops, coffee pot handles, phones, computers and even fridge door handles ― can all harbor infectious viruses. Regularly disinfecting such surfaces can significantly improve your chances of staying well: Up to 80% of infections are transmitted via contact with surfaces that have been sneezed on, coughed on, or touched by an infected party.
- Breathe out, not in.
Have you ever walked by someone right as they let out a huge sneeze or cough, only to find yourself sick shortly thereafter? If so, you’ll appreciate this practical tip: Gently and slowly breathe out as you walk by. By waiting to inhale until you’re eight to ten feet away, you’ll avoid the heavily contaminated air immediately around them, hopefully keeping sickness at bay.
- Increase your vitamin D levels.
Lowered levels of vitamin D are associated with reduced immunity. To boost your immune system, choose a vitamin D supplement that delivers at least 600 and up to 2000 IU per day. Alternately, increase vitamin D levels through regular use of a full-spectrum light during darker months.
- Reduce stress through massage.
Treating yourself to regular massage is as therapeutic as it is relaxing. Massaging the body increases circulation and brings oxygen to the tissues, encouraging healthy immune response. The de-stressing effects of massage are immune-boosting, too.
- Sleep on it.
According to a 2012 study, skimping on sleep is as disruptive to your immune system as stress. Not only does your body repair and renew itself during sleep, research has shown that our bodies need seven to eight hours a night in order to stimulate the immune system’s “natural killer cells,” which allow the body to fight viruses.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
The human body is made up of between 50% and 75% water. With dry winter air outside and artificially heated air inside, hydration is a major contributor to winter health. Without sufficient moisture, immune cells cannot function properly, so do yourself a favor by topping off your internal levels of H2O.
- Laugh it off.
Bust out your favorite comedy this winter, and raise your infection-fighting antibodies with a good old-fashioned belly laugh! Studies have shown that laughing has similar effects on the body as exercise; both boost immune cell activity, promoting better health overall.
Ready to kick flu and cold season to the curb the natural way? Choose the techniques that best suit your lifestyle, and practice them regularly. Your immune system will thank you!