Here in the US, fall and winter are typically considered cold and flu season. School is in session, and we tend to spend more time inside, which gives us ample opportunities to spread germs to each other.
While I wish I could give you (and me) a handful of easy-to-do things or supplements to keep you from getting sick, it is not that easy. I can, however, recommend a few strategies that will help support your immune system so that you don’t get sick as often.
Minimize your exposure to sick people. This is obvious — but I do think that things have changed over the last few years, and for many of us, it is easier to work at home if we are not feeling well. I have also noticed that friends are letting me know when they don’t feel well so we can alter plans as needed. I appreciate that and extend the same courtesy to them.
Wash Your Hands
Wash your hands and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Remember how we all learned to sing Happy Birthday to ourselves two times at the beginning of COVID to train ourselves to wash our hands for 20 seconds? If you have gotten a little lazy, it is time to get back into these practices.
Focus on Nutrient Dense Foods
As the weather gets colder, we tend to crave warm comfort foods, but those often are rich in simple or processed carbs (sugar, white flour …). With a little creativity and planning, you can recreate nutrient-dense versions. Add vegetables to soups, stews, and pasta dishes, use spices like cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom to replace added sugars, and replace traditional desserts with baked fruit or dark chocolate (70% cacao and above). In addition to eating a lot of colorful vegetables and fruits, focus on getting enough protein, healthy fats, fiber-rich foods, and a bit of fermented food each day.
A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces of liquid each day. Alcohol and caffeinated beverages don’t count toward the total, but frothy soups and herbal teas do. Here is a link to a blog post I wrote on hydration.
Most of us need 7-8 hours a night. I know for me that if I don’t prioritize sleep and good sleep hygiene, I start getting less than that 7-hour mark. Some of us have more complex sleep issues, and if that’s you, it is important to work with someone to help address the underlying issues. Here is a link to a blog post I wrote on sleep.
Make Movement and Exercise a Priority
In general, we have become more sedentary. Moving our bodies throughout the day is not the same as exercise. We need to be doing both. While each of us has our own physical abilities and interests, there are some general guidelines for optimal health, no matter our level of fitness. Those who do not exercise regularly often see the most improvement when they start. As a person who loves cycling, I often have to change my exercise routine in the winter. As we roll into November, it may be time to update (and/or create) an exercise plan and a plan for moving throughout the day. Here is a link to a blog post I wrote on movement and exercise. Here is a link to a blog post I wrote about movement and exercise.
We can’t get rid of stress, but we can put into practice habits that help us manage stress. Mindfulness, breathing, yoga, being in nature, playing an instrument, coloring, dancing, talking with friends, knitting, walking, journaling, and practicing gratitude are just some of the ways to help. Pick one that resonates with you, try it out, and either stick with it or try something else. You don’t have to do the same activity each day, but sometimes that can be helpful.
Supplement as Needed
There is some evidence that taking vitamin C regularly (not just when you start feeling sick) and keeping your vitamin D levels at optimal levels (if you have not been tested recently, now is a good time) can help prevent colds and flu. Sucking on zinc lozenges when you do get sick can help reduce the duration of colds. However, too much zinc can cause nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, diarrhea, or headaches, so don’t go overboard.
A good offense is the best defense for preventing colds and flu. Now that we are entering cold and flu season, it is a good time to reassess your health and wellness habits.