14 Ways to Avoid Getting Sick With a Cold or the Flu
Arm yourself with these expert-approved tips to stay germ-free this season.
Are you avoiding your co-worker with that hacking cough, cold, or flu in the cubicle next to you? Do you draw your hand back from every doorknob? Have cold-and-flu phobia? Get a grip before the grippe gets you. We've consulted dozens of medical experts to bring you 14 ways to avoid colds and flu this season.
Every time you shake someone's hand, wash yours
But don't stop there. Wash them as much as possible, says Mark Mengel, MD, chair of community and family medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Running lots of water over your hands will dilute any germs and send them down the drain.
Keep your hands off
Touching your nose and your eyes may hurt you, Dr. Mengel says. Those are the most common places for germs to get in.
Go to bed
As if getting enough sleep on a normal basis isn't hard enough, you need more zz's when you're feeling under the weather. When you're tired, your body isn't fighting as hard, so Dr. Mengel suggests getting 8–10 hours a night.
Get your shot
Yes, every year. Here's where to get your flu vaccine for free.
Build up with healthy food
You may think its hard to eat healthy on a regular basis, but eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables supports your immune system, says Jeff Robertson, MD, chief medical officer for health insurer Regence. And that's a lot easier than fighting off the flu.
Get those sweats on and exercise, says Ann G. Kulze, MD, CEO and founder of Dr. Ann and Just Wellness. Working out regularly enhances immune function, she explains.
Keep your distance from people displaying symptoms like sneezing and coughing. While that strategy may seem obvious, it applies to more than just strangers and colleagues. Stay away from sick friends and family when possible, Dr. Robertson says.
Keep sanitizing gel or alcohol-based hand wipes on you at all times. But read the label before you buy, says Dr. Robertson: Some wipes are not alcohol-based and won't be as effective.
Another reason to quit
Smoking increases the risk of infections by making structural changes in the respiratory tract and decreasing immune response, according to a study of smokers and infection published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2004. In particular, Dr. Mengel says, smoking destroys cilia, the little hairlike fibers inside our noses; this can help increase infection risks.
Did you just double dip that chip?
Beware of the dip. It may be harboring more than savory salsa. Double-dippers may be passing germs to those who eat after them, Dr. Mengel says.
Another reason to shop
Our purses pick up germs like we do, according to Joseph Brasco, MD, author of The Great Physicians Rx for Colds and Flu, so you could be re-infecting yourself every time you pick up your handbag. His suggestion: Put away your cloth purse during the winter months and carry one made of easier-to-wipe-down vinyl or leather. (Of course, you could always just buy more bags.)
I hear your mother calling
Biting your nails may be hurting you, Dr. Brasco says. Germs get under your nails and nibbling is a fast way to ingest them.
Try to smile
New research has found that happiness may help you. Carl Charnetski, MD, professor of psychology at Wilkes University, found that sex, positive thinking, playing with a pet, and other pleasurable behaviors boost your immune system.
You want me to sneeze where?
When you have to cough and sneeze, do so into the crook of your elbow, not into your hands. Since your hands are a common source of germs, doing that will prevent them from spreading, Dr. Kulze says.
To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter