Nix your vices
As though you needed another reason to lay off the cigs, it turns out smoking actually increases your susceptibility to infections, says Robert Harrison, epidemiologist and pediatric infectious disease consultant at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
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But that's not the only vice that viruses love. Knocking back too much booze can deplete your body of immunity-boosting nutrients like zinc and vitamin C, and fried foods, which are chock-full of free radicals that damage cells, can make you more prone to infection. Sorry, girls. But look on the bright side—you've still got sex and chocolate to fall back on!
Not surprising but important enough to repeat—being healthy helps keep you, well, healthy, says Vanessa Maier, M.D., family medicine physician at University Hospital's Case Medical Center.
Living a healthy lifestyle, from exercising and eating nutrient-rich foods to getting enough sleep, helps your body—immune system included—stay in working order. So when a little virus comes creeping along, your body sends out this message: Access denied! Plus, if you get sick when you're otherwise healthy, the illness is less likely to drag on, which means you don't have to spend all of your sick days being sick.
Your derm isn't the only doc who wants you to keep your hands off of your face. Hand-to-hand contact—touching something (or someone!) covered in viral particles and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth—is the number one culprit of cold and flu infections, says Maier. Try this trick for keeping germs at bay: Imagine everyone has red paint on their hands and all the things they touch get coated. It's going to be nearly impossible to avoid picking up more paint on your hands, but you can easily keep it off of your face, says Larry Weiss, lead scientist at CleanWell. You just have to put your mind to it. And help out others by sneezing and coughing into your elbow, not your hand.
Take the shot
That one little stick decreases your chances of catching the flu by between 50 and 90 percent, says Susan Rehm, vice chairperson of the infectious disease department at the Cleveland Clinic. So if you want to stay flu-free, you better receive the shot, she says. This year for the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone older than six months get vaccinated.
Whether you zone out best downward dogging in a yoga class or blasting through a bucket of tennis balls, find a way to de-stress this cold and flu season—especially if you're feeling extra frazzled. Stress causes your body to produce excess corticosteroid hormones that can seriously cramp your body's germ-fighting style, says Harrison. Plus, if you're spending all night counting sheep and not z's, your immune system is worn down too.
The average American washes his or her hands twice a day, and one of these times is in the shower, says Weiss. Please, oh, please, wash your hands more often—like every time you use the restroom, are going to eat or prepare food, or when you just find yourself near a faucet. And when you do, rub them together vigorously for 15 to 20 seconds. If not sink is handy, squirt out a shot of hand sanitizer. It may not scrub off the cream cheese from your morning bagel, but it does the trick on germs.
Keep your plates to yourself
Whoever said sharing is caring probably wasn't talking about germs. Glasses, plates, and utensils are pretty darn good at carrying viral particles, so during cold and flu season think twice before sharing your dessert, says Maier. Another hotbed for germs? The office kitchen. Avoid using communal mugs, plates, and utensils. Just store your own in your desk and wash them before and after each use. On the home front, when you've got the sniffles, you've got a guaranteed out from cooking or dish-washing duty: You could breathe, cough, or sneeze viruses all over, spreading them to loved ones.
Have a staycation
Okay, so lying in bed with a fever isn't exactly a staycation, but if you're sick, you better remain at home in bed, says Maier. Your body needs rest to preserve the energy and calories to fight the infection. Plus, hiding away is the easiest way to prevent spreading germs to others—especially those for whom the flu can be dangerous. Each year more than 36,000 people die and 200,000 are hospitalized because of flu, including young children, the elderly, and people with chronic medical conditions like asthma, says Rehm.
Wipe out germs
As if cold and flu viruses weren't nasty enough already, it turns out the scoundrels can live on flat nonporous surfaces, like kitchen tables, bathroom counters, and sinks or toilets for up to three days! The CDC recommends cleaning hard surfaces daily with a mixture of chlorine bleach—to prepare for germ warfare add one-quarter cup of bleach to one gallon warm water. Let the solution sit on surfaces for 10 minutes before rinsing off with water. The more frequently you bleach, the better, but don't obsess. Even once every other day will go a long way in preventing the spread of germs. And FYI: Fabrics aren't as skilled as hard surfaces at transmitting viruses, so don't worry about slaving over the laundry 24-7.
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