The flu season is just around the corner. And while those flus won’t kill you, they can weaken your immune system to the point that other, more dangerous, germs can take hold in your body. Just think how many times your cold turned into bronchitis or a sinus infection. And given that the average adult suffers two to three colds a year, that’s a lot of opportunities for serious illness — and just as many to prevent one!
Now we can’t promise you’ll never get hit with another cold or endure another bout of the flu, but you can increase your odds of staying well with these natural strategies. If you do get sick, we’ve also included some great tips for getting better faster.
1. Get gargling.
Japanese researchers found that a daily gargling with water reduces your cold risk. People who gargled with water were 36 percent less likely to be struck down when compared with non-garglers. The study suggests that simple water gargling is effective to prevent upper respiratory tract infections.
2. Drink, drink, drink!
Hot liquids like fruit teas and lemon drinks will ease any nasal congestion you feel coming on and prevent dehydration. A dried-out respiratory system will leave you more prone to infection.
3. Take a Sauna.
Researchers aren’t sure exactly how it works but a German study found that people who got steamed twice a week got half as many colds as those who didn’t. It may be down to the fact that sauna air temperatures are too hot for cold and flu viruses to survive.
4. Stop the blaming.
Believe it or not, blaming yourself makes you more likely to catch a cold! At least, that’s what Austrian researchers found when they studied more than 300 workers over three months. Even those who had control over their work were more likely to begin sneezing if they lacked confidence or tended to blame themselves when things went wrong. Researchers expect such attitudes make people more stressed on the job, and stress, as you know, can challenge your immune system.
5. Microwave your toothbrush.
Run your toothbrush through the microwave on high for ten seconds to kill germs that can cause colds and other illnesses. You think it gets your teeth clean — and it does. But once you’re done brushing, your toothbrush is a breeding ground for germs. Sterilize it in the microwave before you use it, or store it in hydrogen peroxide (rinse well before using), or simply replace it every month when you change the page on your calendar and after you’ve had a cold.
6. Crack open a window.
Leave the windows in your house open a crack in winter. Not all of them, but one or two in the rooms in which you spend the most time. This is especially important if you live in a newer home, where fresh circulating air has been the victim of energy efficiency. A bit of fresh air will do wonders for chasing out germs.
7. Focus on one word.
Once a day, sit in a quiet, dim room, close your eyes, and focus on one word. You’re meditating, a proven way to reduce stress. And stress, studies find, increases your susceptibility to colds. People experiencing emotional stress have weakened immune systems and are twice more likely to catch a cold than their calmer counterparts.
8. Wash you hands!
And do it often. Most cold and flu viruses are spread by direct contact. The Naval Health Research Center conducted a study of 36,000 recruits who were ordered to wash their hands five times a day. The recruits cut their incidence of respiratory illnesses by 45 percent.
9. …twice is even better.
When Columbia University researchers looked for germs on volunteers’ hands, they found one handwashing had little effect, even when using antibacterial soap. So wash twice if you’re serious about fending off colds.
10. Public restrooms’ strategy.
Studies find a shockingly large percentage of people fail to wash their hands after using a public restroom. And every single one of them touches the door handle on the way out. So after washing your hands, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet. Use another paper towel to dry your hands, then open the door with that paper towel as a barrier between you and the handle. It sounds nuts, but it’s an actual recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control to protect you from infectious diseases like cold and flu.
11. Use your knuckle to rub your eyes.
It’s less likely to be contaminated with viruses than your fingertip. This is particularly important given that the eye provides a perfect entry point for germs, and the average person rubs his eyes or nose or scratches his face 20-50 times a day.
12. Eat that yogurt.
Researchers from University of California found that individuals who ate one cup of yogurt — whether live culture or pasteurized — had 25 percent fewer colds than non-yogurt eaters. Start your yogurt eating right away to build up your immunity before cold and flu season starts.
13. Inhale air from your blow-dryer.
It sounds nuts, we know. But one study conducted at Harvard Hospital in England found that people who breathed heated air had half the cold symptoms of people who inhaled air at room temperature. Set the dryer on warm, not hot, and hold it at least twenty inches from your face. Breathe in the air through your nose for as long as you can — 20 minutes is best.
14. Go garlic.
When 147 volunteers received either one garlic supplement a day or a placebo for twelve weeks between November and February, those taking the garlic were not only less likely to get a cold, but if they did catch one, their symptoms were less intense and they recovered faster.
15. Getting z’s = no flu.
The fact that a certain amount of sleep is required in order to remain healthy cannot be repeated enough. Not only does sleep help you stay alert throughout your day, but it also helps your immune system stay strong. Try to get at least seven hours of sleep a night, and you’ll be less susceptible to the flu.
16. Water does the body good.
How many times have you heard that eight glasses a day is good or you? Probably every day. This habit is a good one for your body in many ways, as it washes out your system, and is needed in order to maintain a healthy diet and a clear, healthy complexion.
17. Get some exercise.
Exercise is very healthy for your body, in many ways. By exercising regularly, you’re not only developing muscle mass and strength, you’re also making your immune system a heavyweight champion.
18. Lower the heat.
Lower the heat in your house 5 degrees. The dry air of an overheated home provides the perfect environment for cold viruses to thrive. And when your mucous membranes (i.e., nose, mouth, and tonsils) dry out, they can’t trap those germs very well. Lowering the temperature and using a room humidifier helps maintain a healthier level of humidity in the winter.
19. Wipe, don’t blow.
Your cold won’t hang around as long, according to a University of Virginia study. Turns out that the force of blowing not only sends the gunk out of your nose into a tissue, but propels some back into your sinuses. And, in case you’re curious, they discovered this using dye and X rays. If you need to blow, blow gently, and blow one nostril at a time.
20. Sneeze and cough into your arm.
Whoever taught us to cover our mouths when we cough or sneeze got it wrong. That just puts the germs right on our hands, where you can spread them to objects — and other people. Instead, hold the crook of your elbow over your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough if a tissue isn’t handy. It’s pretty rare that you shake someone’s elbow or scratch your eye with an elbow, after all.
21. Don’t pressure your doctor for antibiotics.
Colds and flu (along with most common infections) are caused by viruses, so antibiotics — designed to kill bacteria — won’t do a thing. They can hurt, however, by killing off the friendly bacteria that are part of our immune defenses. If you’ve used antibiotics a lot lately, consider a course of probiotics — replacement troops for friendly bacteria.
22. Doctor, doctor.
All these are simple ways to help you avoid the flu — but they are not substitutes for medical treatment or advice.
Remember that the flu is something that everyone gets once in a while, and there is no 100% guarantee to prevent it. But if you want to decrease your chances of being stuck at home with a pesky flu, use these tips. That doesn’t mean you can’t still call in sick once in a while…