By Dr. Jiang
The colder weather will be here soon enough, and with it comes cold and flu season.
Around this time of year is when physicians start to see many people with coughs and colds, and so I want to focus this month’s article on what you can do to stay healthy during this time of year.
Here are my top ten things to do to stay healthy during the cold and flu season:
- Get enough sleep. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep can lead to increased stress on the body and a weakened immune system, which can lead to catching more colds.
- Get regular exercise. Regular exercise has a lot of benefits for the body. Not only does it improve heart health, decrease blood pressure, help you maintain a healthy weight, but it can also help to boost your immune system. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five days a week or more.
- Eat a varied and balanced diet. Eating a good diet provides fuel for your body to support a healthy immune system and to fight off incoming infections. Canada’s food guide recommends a diet high in vegetables and fruits, choosing whole-grain carbohydrates (like rice, bread, pasta), and eating more home-cooked meals.
- Stop smoking. Smoking can directly harm the cells in the body that are responsible for a good immune system. People who smoke are more likely to get sick compared to non-smokers. Smokers can be particularly susceptible to lung infections and can take longer to recover from their symptoms.
- Cover up when you are coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria. Cover up your mouth and nose with a tissue or cough and sneeze into your armpit.
- Practice good hand hygiene for you and your family. Wash your hands with soap and water or use antibacterial hand wash as an alternative. Make sure to wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose, and after being in contact with someone who is sick.
- Take vitamin D. Vitamin D is used to maintain strong, healthy bones, and is made by the skin when exposed to sunlight. Almost ¾ of Canadians are vitamin D deficient since we don’t get enough sunlight during the year. Some studies have shown that being deficient in vitamin D can make you more prone to infections. Adults should take 1000 to 2000 units of vitamin D daily.
- Get your flu shot. While its effectiveness varies year to year, the flu shot is the best defence against getting the flu and passing it to others. I recommend the flu shot to all of my patients, especially if you are living in a household with young infants, pregnant women, elderly people, or sick individuals (like patients undergoing chemotherapy).
- Find ways to reduce stress. It may be that psychological stress (like depression, anxiety, finances worries, relationship problems, work or school-related pressures), can dampen down the immune system and make people more vulnerable to infections. If you are feeling stressed, take time for yourself during the day to relax.
- If you do get sick with a cold or the flu this season, make sure to stay home and get lots of rest, drink plenty of fluids, stay warm, and see your doctor to make sure you are on the right treatment. Staying home while you are sick also prevents your infection from spreading to other people around you.