The Best New Ways to Avoid the Cold and Flu

Want to feel great all season long? Eat right, get plenty of sleep, and follow these other expert tips.


Stay away from sickies
sleep-in-sick
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The flu gets passed around primarily when infected people sneeze, cough, or just talk, sending tiny, virus-filled water droplets out of their mouths and noses and into yours, from as far as 6 to 10 feet away. So if a co-worker shows up complaining about aches and pains, or you notice someone wheezing next to you on the bus or in line at Target, you should stay at least 10 feet away, if possible—"15 feet if the person's really sick," says Philip Tierno, PhD, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. Switch seats on public transportation or at the movies if you have to! (And if you're that coughing, sneezing person—stay the heck home, for the sake of those around you.)

Although you probably won't get influenza from pressing an elevator button or using a keyboard that a sick person has handled, you could catch a cold, since that virus is mainly passed around by touch. So it's smart to clean shared telephones and laptops with a disinfecting wipe. Also, like Mom said, wash your hands! Soap up or use an alcohol-based sanitizer, especially before you eat or touch your eyes, nose, or face, and after you've been in the bathroom.

If you've got a sick child or spouse at home, you can't exactly banish 'em to the backyard. Just wash your hands more than usual and avoid kissing and sharing drinks or utensils with family members; they can shed live viruses for five days after symptoms are gone.

Sleep in this weekend
You always hear that rest is important when you're under the weather, but research shows that it really could make the difference between who gets sick and who doesn't. In a study from Carnegie Mellon University, people who got eight or more hours of sleep were less likely to come down with a cold than those who'd snoozed for fewer than seven hours, even when a live virus was placed directly in their nose. (Suddenly, staying up late to catch up on Downton Abbey doesn't sound quite as tempting.)

Even if you don't have time for a nap, doing some meditation could really help to ward off colds and flu: In a new study from the University of Wisconsin, people who took an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation were about 30 percent less likely to get sick than non-ommers. No need to take a class; simply sit still and focus on your inhales and exhales for several minutes every day.

Eat to boost your immunity
What you put in your mouth can make a huge difference in how well your body fights off cold and flu germs. Step one: Cut back on fatty foods and eat more of the stuff that boosts your immune response, like fruit and vegetables, experts advise. Federal guidelines recommend that we get five to nine servings of fruit and veggies a day. At the very least, have one at every meal or snack—"especially orange, yellow-orange, and deep green produce, which are highest in the symptom-beating antioxidants you need now: vitamin C, E, and beta-carotene," says Melina Jampolis, MD, a Los Angeles internist and author of The Calendar Diet.

Vitamin D is another nutrient to amp up on: One recent Spanish study found that being deficient may leave us particularly vulnerable to colds and flu. Because it's tough to get enough from sunlight (which triggers the body to create it) or food, "I put my patients on 1,000 IU a day," Dr. Jampolis says.

Most important, eat a well-balanced diet that's not lacking in any nutrient, including calories. "Flu season—or any season!—is no time to go on a crash diet," Dr. Jampolis says. "Severely limiting calories can decrease your body's defenses." Pass the sweet potatoes!

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Last Updated: November 01, 2012

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