During the colder months of the year (which in Santa Fe, New Mexico is generally from October to April or even May), there are many upper respiratory viruses circulating that can cause colds and flu-like illnesses. This leads to missed work, doctor’s visits, and generally not feeling well—it is no fun to be sick. In the worst case scenario, influenza, or the flu, can lead to hospitalization and every year some people even die of influenza. These viruses are very contagious so when you get sick, you can expose others and make them sick as well. Although there are possible treatments for influenza (the flu), there is no cure for the common cold. Therefore, prevention is key. Here are 7 ways to improve your chances of staying healthy during cold and flu season:
1. Wash your hands. It is very important to wash your hands frequently. Wet your hands, use soap to create a lather, and then rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds; then rinse and dry. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails. This is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs and decrease your chances of getting sick.
2. Get regular exercise. It is important to get regular exercise to help your body stay healthy and to maintain a strong immune system. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends aerobic exercise. Most healthy adults should get 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week, or a combination of the two. Exercise helps the body function more efficiently and helps the immune system fight off potential illnesses.
3. Drink water. Our bodies are more than 50% water. In order to stay healthy, it is important to keep hydrated. Drink plenty of water everyday. One common recommendation, the “8×8 rule,” is to drink 8 eight-ounce glasses of water a day.
4. Get adequate sleep. If you want to stay healthy, it is important to get adequate sleep every night. When you don’t get enough rest and get “run down,” it can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to illness. Adults vary in how much sleep they need, but most of us need 7 to 9 hours a night. Children and adolescents need more sleep.
5. Get your flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months and older get the flu shot every year, ideally before the end of October. However, getting the flu shot later in the season is okay too. In New Mexico, the flu season can last until May. The flu shot helps decrease your risk of getting the flu. It will also protect your loved ones from exposure to the flu. At Aspen Medical Center, we offer flu shots every year.
6. Eat healthy. In order to maintain an optimally functioning immune system, it is also important to eat a healthy diet. There are many different dietary recommendations out there, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid junk food (sodas, chips, candy, pre-packaged food and fast food), and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, in addition to whole grains, and healthy fats (e.g olive oil) and protein (eggs, fish, legumes, nuts, and lean meats).
7. Minimize your stress level. The immune system can be affected by stress. Some stress is inevitable, but intense prolonged stress can lead to sickness. It is important to find healthy means of coping with stress such as relaxation or calming exercises. Prayer, meditation, journaling, or talking with friends, family, or a counselor are all ways to help deal with stress. Acupuncture and massage also help alleviate the negative affects of stress. If you have anxiety, depression, or other condition that interferes with your normal functioning, then seek out a mental health practitioner or medical provider.