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How to Boost Your Immune System During Cold and Flu Season

The cold and flu seasons are well underway, with peaks expected to hit in January or February of 2014. There are simple ways to boost your immune system. Put these healthy habits in place to ward off sickness and see you through.

Maintain a Strong Immune System

Your immune system exists to fight against infectious illnesses. A strong immune system helps you stay healthy or, at a minimum, reduces the severity and duration of a sickness. Do the following to keep it working at optimal levels:

Eat a healthy diet — Make sure fruits, veggies, and whole grains are on the shopping list each week and keep your intake of saturated fats low.

Exercise regularly — Not only does exercise help you maintain a healthy weight, it also works wonders for your stress level and helps keep blood pressure in check, both of which are important contributors to a healthy immune system.

Don’t smoke, and drink only in moderation — Enough said.

Get a good night’s sleep — Sleep deprivation suppresses immune system function. If you do get sick, sleep plays an even more vital role as it allows your body to better use a fever to fight infection.

Get Your Flu Shot

The Centers for Disease Control and PreventionLink opens in a new tab recommends a yearly flu vaccine for anyone six months of age or older. The vaccine protects against the three or four main strains that do the most damage during flu season and are available at a variety of locations. You can make an appointment to get one at your doctor’s office, or you can simply stop by your local pharmacy or urgent-care clinic as a walk-in patient. Schools and employers also often offer them on campus or in the workplace. The right vaccine for you depends on your age and health status. Nose-spray vaccines are available for some in addition to shots.

Avoid Antibiotics

While many who get sick rush to their doctor for antibiotics, it serves as a waste of time as neither a cold nor the flu is an infection. They are viruses. Ask your doctor about antiviral medication if you do get sick. These drugs can ease your symptoms and shorten the duration of the sickness.

Hand Sanitizer in Moderation

Research shows that general overuse of hand sanitizer actually does more harm than good in most cases. It can increase the amount of bacteria on hands rather than decrease it, and hand sanitizer can make your immune system more sensitive to other irritants such as allergens. Overuse by children can actually result in higher levels of inflammation as adults, which increases risk for certain diseases. Also, the chemicals in hand sanitizer, triclosan in particular, becomes toxic when exposed to chlorinated water.

The CDC and other experts recommend old-fashioned hand washing with soap and clean, running water. It offers the following instruction for kids and adults who need a reminder not to rush the process:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  • Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air-dry them.

Save the hand sanitizer for instances when you know you were exposed to someone with a cold or flu.

Speaking of close contact with a sick person, the CDC recommends steering clear to protect yourself. The opposite holds true. If you get a cold or the flu, stay home and lower the risk of infecting others.

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