Want to stay healthy as the weather turns chilly? Here’s how the professionals do it.
Cold and flu season is upon us, so who better to take advice from than people who see sneezing, hacking patients every day? Here, doctors and nurses give their best tips and advice for boosting your immune system.
1. Pop probiotics: Approximately 60% to 70% of your entire immune system is located in your gut. As Alexander Rinehart, a certified nutrition specialist, puts it, "Your gut is a barrier between the outside world and your body's internal world." This barrier is covered in part by healthy bacteria, which prevents infections and pathogens from being absorbed. While studies are ongoing, many—including one recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition—show promise in the effectiveness of probiotic supplements at preventing respiratory illness like the common cold.
2. Sleep on a schedule: For surgeons, sleep is a responsibility, you’ve got lives in your hands. But sleep also helps keep you healthy. One study found that people who slept six hours or less per night on average were around four times more likely to catch a cold. Follow a strict routine, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. When your body gets used to a schedule, it will find a natural rhythm, making it easier to fall asleep. Allow yourself a nap if you need one: A 20-minute catnap helps you stay alert for the rest of the day without making it hard to doze off that night.
3. Exercise, but not too hard: "After moderate to intense exercise, say running for 40 to 60 minutes without stopping, there is a 72-hour window during which your body is severely distressed, and that's a time when people are susceptible to getting sick," says Scott Weiss, MD, who has treated athletes in the NFL, NHL, WNBA, and was part of the sports medicine team at the Athens and Beijing Olympic Games. "You have to let your body recover and not force it to work hard while it's in a weakened state." According to a study from Appalachian State University, heavy exertion increases the athlete's risk of upper respiratory tract infections because of negative changes in immune function and elevation of the stress hormones, epinephrine, and cortisol. On the flip side, research shows that easy to moderate exercise actually boosts your immune system.
4. Hold your breath: Most germs enter your body through your nose or mouth, so if you're around someone who's sick or next to someone who sneezes, avoid taking big inhalations. "Just being conscious of your breath around a sick person can help keep you from getting infected," says Weiss. A recent study released from MIT revealed that coughs and sneezes, and their potentially infectious droplets, travel much farther distances than previously thought. A good rule of thumb: if you see or hear someone sneeze nearby, hold your breath for 10 to 15 seconds.
5. Keep your hands clean: Doctors wash their hands a lot, before and after they see each patient. Scrubbing in for surgery, they typically wash all the way up their arms and under their nails. You don’t need to be that extreme; a 20-second session with soap and warm water should do the trick. But make sure you’re at the sink often enough. Of course, they wash before preparing food and eating, and after sneezing and using the bathroom. But they also suds up after eating and cleaning up. And they carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.