How to Stay Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

  • Stacey Colino
Strengthen your body’s defenses by eating well, drinking lots of water, exercising regularly, and staying away from people who appear sick. If you do get a bug, pamper yourself.

Eat antioxidant-rich foods, such as whole-grain cereals, walnuts, and artichokes, as well as foods packed with omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon. “The antioxidants protect the body’s tissues against stress and inflammation and enhance immune function,” says Cindy Moore, a registered dietitian and the director of nutrition therapy at the Cleveland Clinic. “Omega-3 fatty acids promote blood flow and the production of anti-inflammatory substances,” which also boost immune function.

Take a brisk walk every day. Any kind of moderate daily exercise―such as cycling, swimming, or working out at the gym―can improve lung and immune function. Physical activity enhances the ability of T lymphocytes (white blood cells that attack virus and cancer cells) to ramp up the immune response, says Neil Schachter, a professor of pulmonary and critical care at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City. But don’t push yourself too hard. Some studies suggest that high-intensity exercise for two or more hours at a time increases stress hormones, which can lead to suppression of the immune system.

Stay three or more feet away from people who are coughing or sneezing. This will keep you outside the immediate spray of their germs, says Chuck Gerba, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. If you’re not near a sink during the day or you work in a high-germ environment, such as a school, carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you.

As you’ve been told millions of times, drink lots of water, don’t skimp on sleep, and get a flu shot. The tried-and-true advice still holds. Staying well hydrated keeps the tissues of the respiratory system moist and helps the immune system work properly. Sleep helps the body function at an optimum level. If you get seven to eight hours of rest a night, you’ll be less likely to become sick, and if you do catch something, you’ll recover faster. October through November is the best time to be immunized, even if you’re a healthy adult. If you can’t stand needles, ask your doctor about FluMist, a prescription nasal-spray vaccine that’s as effective as a shot.

Finally, stay home from work when you first feel ill. It’s possible that work-related stress (not to mention commuting) could slow your recovery. Tell your boss that Real Simple said so.