by Gretchen Schisla
We’re almost through winter cold and flu season. While some of us have been lucky enough to escape getting sick in recent weeks, others haven’t fared as well. Did you know that adults typically get two to four colds per year, each of which can last seven or more days? Taking cold prevention seriously could help you avoid feeling lousy and prevent downtime from your normal activities.
Feel Your Best
Get enough ZZZs: My mom’s best advice was “sleep is your best friend,” but it often gets neglected when we’re running busy lives. Research suggests 7 to 9 hours each night will keep our immune system strong – but generally only 1/3 of Americans follow this rule. One study showed that you’re 3 times more likely to catch a cold if you average less than 7 hours a night. A second found that the lack of sleep can result in a substantial decrease in the white blood cells that help fight infection. Tips: Avoid watching TV or using your computer just before bedtime and turn the lights down low about an hour before you go to bed, to boost the release of melatonin in your brain.
Relieve stress: It’s part of our lives, and we may not realize we’re stressed, but our immune system sure does. If you’re stressed for more than 4 weeks, your body is twice as likely to get sick when it’s exposed to a cold virus. To conquer it: Slow down – identify your stress sources, pay attention to how you feel on daily basis and find healthy releases. Stay connected – socializing helps strengthen your immune system by keeping you active and reducing your stress level. Invite friends over, bundle up and get out for a walk with your family, or visit a local museum.
Just do it: Keep those workouts going during winter! Studies show that a consistent, moderate level of exercise has a long term, cumulative effect on the immune system. One study found that participants who went for a brisk walk several times a week reduced the number of sick days they took by about 40%. Lead researcher David Nieman reports “Regular aerobic exercise, five or more days a week for more than 20 minutes a day, rises above all other lifestyle factors in lowering sick days during the winter cold season.”
Eat color: Strengthen your immune system naturally with bright vegetables and fruits. They are loaded with protective vitamins, minerals, plant sterols and flavanols that support immune cells. Upping your intake is an easy way to provide nutrients to your bloodstream. Tip: If you’re struggling to get the recommended two servings of fruit and five servings of veggies each day, try juicing them with a mixture of 2/3 vegetables and 1/3 fruit.
Scrub up: Viruses can live for hours on the things we routinely touch, like door knobs and keypads. Often, we unknowingly deliver them right to our viral portals such as our eyes and nose. Participants in a military base study were asked to wash their hands 5 times a day, resulting in 45% fewer respiratory illnesses than the previous year. Best way: To effectively kill germs, lather up with soap for at least 20 seconds to help dislodge germs, then rinse well under running water. When you aren’t next to a sink, use a hand sanitizer. Apply by rubbing until it’s dry. Studies suggest using an ethanol-based formula with an alcohol concentration of at least 60 percent.
Travel smart: Confined space, lots of people and dry air create an environment that colds thrive in, such as planes, buses and subways. A study in England showed that those who took public transportation were 6 times more likely to suffer from respiratory infections. Prevention tips: Take an immune-boosting supplement that contains vitamin C. Hot tea contains volatile oils (echinacea and peppermint teas) that have antiviral properties and can help moisten mucus membranes. Saline spray or a nasal swab can also help to keep mucus membranes moist. If someone next to you is sneezing and coughing, wear a mask. Who cares if you look silly.
Cold plunge: You don’t need to be polar bear, but adding a blast of chilly water at the end of a warm shower can stimulate lymphatic circulation and create a reflex action to support immunity.
Down for the Count
Surrender: Take a day off. A survey showed that 72% of people go to work when they’re sick. Those who stay home and let themselves sleep, recover much faster than those who don’t. Bed rest is one of the best things to help your system fight off a virus. Advice: Take naps and get more sleep at night. Cancel your appointments, turn off your cell phone and crawl into bed.
Hot cordial: A simple drink of concentrated fruit juice that’s been warmed up can relieve common cold symptoms including runny nose, sore throat, chills and fatigue. This heated version can provide immediate and lasting relief. Try dropping 2 tsp. of black current syrup into 1 cup of hot apple juice.
Ease symptoms naturally: To breathe better, try a steam tent by draping a towel over your head and leaning over a bowl of steaming water with a few drops of essential oil (menthol or eucalyptus). An expectorant will help relieve chest tension by thinning mucus and making it easier to cough. Use zinc cough drops every two hours. One study showed that people who took zinc lozenges every few hours cut the duration of their colds by several days. Gargle with mouthwash to help kill bacteria in your throat.
Warming socks treatment: Try this old naturopath technique and soak a thin pair of cotton socks in water. Put them in the freezer for 10 minutes, and then put them on your feet, followed by a pair of wool socks. Climb into bed. This technique causes the body to heat the feet up and increases circulation. It won’t make a cold go away immediately, but it will help your system to fight back faster.
See a doctor: For symptoms that last longer than 7 to 10 days, consult your doctor (in case there is a complication that requires treatment.) Once you recover, think about what you can do to fight future bugs. If your doctor isn’t knowledgeable about complementary or alternative medicine, consider consulting with a naturopath or integrative physician. They can help you decide what supplements are best for you and which products and brands are reputable.