You've got to act fast to fight off colds and flu. Case in point: University of Arizona scientists have found that when someone is sick in an office, it takes only four hours (!) for surfaces like coffeepot handles, copy-machine buttons,and the fridge door to show traces of infectious virus.
It's critical to arm yourself against aches, cough, fever, and general misery—especially if you're over the age of 65,and are particularly susceptible to complications from the flu. For reality-tested tips that actually work, we turned to doctors, microbiologists,and nutritionists, some of whom are exposed to viruses every day. Steal their strategies to win the war against germs this winter.
1. Sip tea
"I drink hot black or green tea with lemon and honey. Drinking the tea and breathing in steam stimulates the cilia – the hair follicles in the nose – to move out germs more efficiently. Lemon thins mucus, and honey is antibacterial."
—Murray Grossan, MD, ear, nose and throat specialist at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles
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2. Get a protein fix
"Research shows that diets that are too low in protein can deplete the immune system. So I make sure to get protein-rich foods throughout the day, especially fish, eggs, and yogurt."
—Douglas Kalman, PhD, RD, director of nutrition and applied clinical trials at Miami Research Associates
3. Sanitize your office space
"I clean everything that gets touched by lots of people – microwaves, doorknobs, elevator buttons, the armrests on my chair – with a good disinfectant at least once a week, even if it looks clean. It's just basic hygiene. Rhinoviruses can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours!"
—Philip Tierno, PhD, author of The Secret Life of Germs
4. Breathe out
"When I'm walking past another person and he is sneezing or coughing, I gently and slowly breathe out until I'm beyond the 6- to 10-foot zone around him. This keeps me from inhaling the air he just contaminated."
—Stafford Broumand, MD, a plastic surgeon in New York City
5. Zinc it
"If I get a scratchy throat and think I might be getting a cold, I pop lozenges with zinc for a few days. They relieve symptoms and can get you better faster."
—Marc Leavey, MD, a primary care physician in Lutherville, Maryland
6. Pamper your nose
"I do a daily nasal rinse with a bulb syringe to flush out viruses and help clear secretions. You can buy nasal saline irrigation at the drugstore or make your own: Mix 3 teaspoons iodide-free salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Add 1 teaspoon of this mixture to 1 cup distilled or cooled boiled water."
—Jeffrey Demain, MD, director of the Allergy Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska
7. Call it a day
"My strategy is to double down on trying to get enough sleep, even if it's just a power nap on a plane. Research shows that our bodies need seven to eight hours of sleep in order to stimulate an immune response from our 'natural killer cells,' which attack viruses. Sleep is my most reliable defense against infection."
—David Katz, MD, founder of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and author of Disease-Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well
8. Protect your paws
"I wash my hands often and pat them fully dry so they don't get flaky, which can allow germs in. Then I moisturize."
—Diane Berson, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College and assistant attending dermatologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital
9. Don't talk dirty
"As a doctor, I need to keep my cell phone with me at all times. During the day, I might place it on a counter or use it in between opening doors, pushing elevator buttons, or shaking hands with patients or colleagues. Cleaning my phone with a sanitizing wipe regularly cuts back on the germs that get near my face and mouth."
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