I still work part-time as a physician in a medical clinic, and this week I noticed a dramatic shift in what came through the doors. Viruses, lots of them. People complaining of coughs, fevers, sore throats, one after the other. Summer transitioned into fall just over a week ago, and outdoor temperatures have fallen accordingly. This presumably precipitated the wave of illnesses suddenly making their way through our community.
With more colds and flu around, and more people spending time together indoors, it’s more likely that you’ll get sick, too. It’s not inevitable, though. Thankfully there are a number of things you can do to help ward off those annoying infections:
1) Get enough sleep
That means at least 7 hours a night. Whether you stay up all night one night, or just consistently don't get enough sleep (even just a few days in a row), sleep deprivation puts a serious damper on your immune system’s ability to fight off infection.
2) Eat well
Don't skip breakfast, and make sure to get three solid meals in every day. Each meal should contain a carbohydrate, a protein source, and a fruit or vegetable, and it's best to eat your biggest meals earlier in the day. Don’t go too long without eating (to the point where you feel weak or shaky), as your body will perceive it as a stress. Avoid sugary foods and drinks, as sugar has been shown to literally slow your immune cells down.
3) Exercise regularly
Exercise, even just going for a walk, pumps your circulation around your body and boosts your immune function. Just don’t go all out if your body hasn’t exercised in a while, as your body also can perceive that as a stress that weakens your immune system. Running hard over long distances is also stressful for your body. If you’re feeling tired and run down, don’t push yourself too hard.
4) Wash your hands
Do this before eating, especially. Be careful throughout the day to avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes with your hands, as this is how bugs (viruses and bacteria) get into your body. This is one of the key ways that I protect myself at the virus-laden clinic. As a rule, I never eat anything without washing my hands first, and always wash my hands first thing when I get home after being out and about.
5) Reduce stress
When you’re tense and harried, your body pumps out stress hormones which weaken your immune system’s ability to respond to invaders. Slow down and take measures to back off if you feel your stress levels careening out of control. If your life is really busy, be sure to regularly allow for down time to rest. I’m a big fan of taking a Sabbath day once a week, to rest and recover from the previous week and get ready for the next.
6) Have fun
Laughter and positive social interaction are both great for your immune system. Spend time with people you love and people that make you laugh. Play and have fun, remember to take time to enjoy the life and people you’ve been blessed with.
7) Stay warm
Mom was right, you need to bundle up if it’s cold out. Research has shown that warmer body temperatures can prevent the spread of the common cold virus. I’ve certainly had the experience of “catching a chill” by being under-dressed in cold weather, and falling deathly ill shortly after. I won’t make that mistake again. I often carry a scarf or shawl in my bag this time of year, in case the temperature drops unexpectedly.
Finally, if you do get sick, see your doctor if that cold isn’t going away – I usually don’t like to prescribe medication for colds, as rest and healthy fluids and foods are usually better than any medicine. But if it’s been more than a week and you’re just not getting better, or you feel unusually unwell, get in to see a doctor.
No one likes to get sick, and you’re really not as helpless as you might feel among the coughing, sneezing masses. Look after yourself this fall and winter, you’ll thank me for it later.
Susan Biali Haas, M.D. is a wellness expert, life and health coach, professional speaker, and flamenco dancer. She has been featured as an expert on the Today Show, as well as other major media outlets, and is available for keynote presentations, workshops/retreats, and private coaching. Visit susanbiali.com to receive a complimentary eBook, Ten Essential Easy Changes — Boost Mood, Increase Energy & Reduce Stress by Tomorrow. Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
Copyright Dr. Susan Biali Haas 2016