Winter has not yet arrived, but the flu has already returned to the United States with a vengeance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been an estimated 730 reported deaths, more than 13,000 hospitalizations, and a minimum of 1,600,000 illnesses as of November 4, and these stats are continuously being updated. If you have the flu, you may experience a fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, fatigue, headaches, and body aches, as reported by the CDC.
One thing COVID-19 taught us is that there are many ways to remain healthy despite being surrounded by a virus, including wearing masks and how to be socially distant. But even prior to the days of the coronavirus pandemic, the frigid winter has always been a time to use good sense to avoid contracting a cold or the flu. Dr. Bohl explains, “There are a couple of hypotheses as to why people get sick more often in the winter. The first has to do with viruses, the tiny pathogens that cause many diseases. Rhinovirus, one of the causes of the common cold, and influenza virus, the cause of the flu, may survive and spread more easily in colder, drier weather.”
There are other reasons, too, and they could be based on the individual. For instance, Dr. Bohl explains that it’s not uncommon for people to have lower vitamin D levels during the winter months, which can compromise their immune systems. It’s also possible to endure reduced blood flow since when you are cold, your body can turn your blood flow inward to your core, and away from your hands, feet, arms, and legs, in order to keep warm. Lastly, in frigid temps, many of us prefer relaxing inside, leading to crowded homes and less fresh air.
In order to keep your body healthy during flu season, we chatted with Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM the Director of Medical Content&Education at Ro and a member of the Eat This, Not That! Medical Expert Board, who shares exactly what you need to do. Read on to learn how to keep your body healthy during flu season, and for more, don’t miss The #1 Best Workout for Your Immune System, Trainer Reveals.
Eat well, get sufficient sleep, and exercise.
In order to stay in good health during this tricky time of year, Dr. Bohl advises eating healthy foods, getting in regular physical activity, and keeping your weight in check.
He says, “In terms of tips to stay healthy, many of the recommendations are the same sorts of things you always hear from healthcare providers: eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, drink alcohol in moderation, refrain from smoking, get enough sleep each night, and minimize stress. All of these tips are good ways to support the immune system, decrease inflammation in the body, and lower levels of stress hormones (which can suppress the immune system).”
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Use good hygiene, and keep your hands away from your face.
Use good sense when it comes to hygiene by washing your hands often and keeping them away from your nose, mouth, and eyes. Dr. Bohl also suggests, “Getting a flu shot is one of the most effective things you can do to stay healthy during the flu season. In many cases, the flu shot can prevent you from getting the flu. But—even if it doesn’t—it can make it so the flu is milder than it would have been without the shot.”
Do what you can to lower your exposure.
If others are sick or seem like it’s possible, do yourself a solid, and steer clear. When possible, avoid crowded places, too. It’s important to lower your risk of being exposed to germs.
Dr. Bohl says, “Stay away from large crowds and avoid hanging out with friends if they say they are experiencing symptoms or may have been recently exposed themselves.” It’s worth the disappointment of missing a plan if it helps you dodge getting sick. After all, if you catch the flu, you’ll likely miss more than one plan. So cuddle up and catch up on your favorite show or read a good book. Your health will thank you!
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Echinacea and vitamins C and D can be beneficial.
Many products claim to boost your immune system or prevent colds, but when it comes down to it, not much has not been proven. “One review found that echinacea, an herbal supplement, isn’t effective at treating colds but may help prevent them,” says Dr. Bohl, adding, “Vitamin D supplements may be beneficial in those who are vitamin D deficient. And there has been a lot of research around vitamin C. One review found that vitamin C doesn’t prevent colds except for in people exposed to ‘brief periods of severe physical exercise.’ And there is inconsistent evidence regarding whether vitamin C affects the duration of colds.”
If you think you’re getting sick, give yourself some TLC.
It’s essential to give yourself extra TLC in the event you start to feel as though you’re coming down with something. Be sure to stay hydrated, and get solid rest. According to Dr. Bohl, there really is some proof that chicken noodle soup is helpful with a cold, so definitely have some if it’s something you like.
Dr. Bohl also points out, “There are antiviral medications (like oseltamivir) that can be effective if taken within the first 48 hours of symptoms. Zinc supplements have also been shown to shorten colds if taken within 24 hours of symptom onset. And there are many other medications on the market that offer combinations of painkillers, decongestants, mucus thinners, and cough suppressants that can help control your symptoms.” Do what works best for your body, and here’s to staying healthy this flu season!