Whether you have a young child bringing home germs from school or you ride public transportation next to sneezing and coughing commuters, winter is often prime time for battling illness. Researchers have a variety of theories on why colds, stomach viruses, strep, and the flu seem to thrive during winter weather. Even without a clear conclusion, there are steps you can take to help strengthen your resistance when cold weather hits.
1. Wash your hands
Washing your hands regularly, and particularly before you touch your face or eat, is one of the most constructive and effective ways to avoid getting sick. Today’s preschoolers have it right – they are often encouraged to wash their hands each time they enter the classroom, after using the restroom, and before snack time.
Interestingly, just teaching others about healthy hand washing practices has been shown to have a positive impact on the spread of communicable diseases. The CDC reports that hand washing education reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21 percent.
2. Get enough sleep
Sleep is when our bodies restore and rebuild. So, it follows logic that if we aren’t getting enough sleep, we aren’t giving our bodies a chance to properly fight off infection. Studies have shown that well-rested people who get the flu vaccine developed stronger protection against the illness. Fight the urge to binge watch your favorite show this winter and prioritize sleep instead.
3. Eat right and exercise
Though it is easy to skip workouts in dark cold weather, or to snuggle on the couch with a less-than-healthy snack after a long day, letting healthy nutrition and exercise habits slide at the end of the year leads to weakened immune systems. Eating overly sugary foods has been shown to impact your immune response for hours afterwards.
When it comes to staying healthy, exercise actually has two benefits. In and of itself, exercise has been shown to fortify your immune defenses. But exercise has also been shown to lower stress, and sky-high stress levels also make it more difficult for us to ward off infection.
4. Get a flu shot
While a flu shot won’t protect you from the common cold, or a host of other commonly spread infections, it will lower your risk of getting a serious case of the flu, which at best means a week in bed and at worst leads to dangerous complications. This is particularly true for children, who are just building their immune systems, and the elderly, who are more likely to struggle with serious complications from the flu. Check with your health insurance provider to find out if your flu shot is covered and where you can receive it, or check with our partners at your local Walgreens or United Way to learn more about our no-cost flu shot events taking place across the nation.
If you do fall victim to cold-weather-loving germs this winter, make sure you have the Free FamilyWize Prescription Discount Card in your wallet (or app on your phone). Quick and easy to use, the FamilyWize Prescription Discount Cardhas helped over 10 million people nationwide save more than $1 billion on their prescription medications.
CDC.gov – Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others
Harvard Medical School – How to boost your immune system