By Lisa Nickchen, Editorial Contributor
Whether it’s a summer cold or the start of school and then flu season, germs are lurking out there. Following a few good habits can help ward off illness, says Dr. Robert Olson, a family medicine physician with Orlando Health Physician Associates. Here are five of his top picks.
1. It’s All About Balance
Eating a balanced diet made up of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, legumes and nuts helps fuel your body with the vitamins and nutrients needed to support a healthy immune system. Be sure to include cruciferous vegetables, such as arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale, which research has shown may help the immune system run more efficiently.
Proper hydration also is important. Experts say each day you should drink at least a 1/2 ounce of water for every pound of your weight. And in our hot climate, it’s best to set your goal closer to 1 ounce per pound.
2. No Couch Potatoes
Among the numerous benefits of exercise, research has shown that a regular exercise routine can accelerate the circulation of white blood cells, helping to better fight infections by attacking germs, bacteria and viruses.
Other studies have found that those who regularly participated in mild exercise for 45 minutes, 3-5 days a week, had strengthened immune systems that were more capable of fighting off upper respiratory illnesses. And, those who just walked for 35-45 minutes, 5 days per week, used half as many sick days as those with sedentary lifestyles.
3. Don’t Forget the Zzz’s
Getting enough rest when you’re not feeling well can help your body recover. But the proper amount of sleep, and good sleep habits, can help you avoid getting sick in the first place. One reason may be that during extended periods of sleep, the body releases cytokines, a protein that helps to regulate the immune system.
For adults ages 24-64, experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep nightly. One study even showed that those who slept less than 7 hours per night were up to three times more susceptible to catching a cold than those who slept longer.
4. Keep It Clean
Hand-washing is one of the best ways to prevent illness. Think about how many surfaces you encounter every day and how many germs that translates into. And if you rub your eyes or touch your mouth or ears with your hands, it’s easy for those germs to get past your immune defenses.
Be sure to wash your hands:
- Before handling food or eating
- Before doing anything that brings your hands in contact with your eyes or mouth, like brushing your teeth or putting in contact lenses
- For at least 20 seconds — and don’t forget under the fingernails
- With soap and water – but if you can’t, use hand sanitizer
5. Think Prevention and Wellness
Don’t wait until you’re feeling sick to see your healthcare provider. Regular visits can ensure you’re getting the preventive exams, screenings and vaccines you need to stay healthy.
An annual flu vaccine not only lessens your chances of getting the flu, but also will help protect those around you. Since the flu is most often spread through contact with someone who is already sick, the more people who are vaccinated, the less chances for the virus to spread.
Bonus Tip: If you do start feeling sick, one study found that neti pot use reduced the spread of active flu among householders members.