The snow is falling, the air has that distinct January chill… and everyone is sniffling. It’s that time of year again: Though certain factors fluctuate from year to year, the peak of flu season tends to occur between the months of December and February. A 2018 CDC study found that an average of 8% of the American population will contract the flu each year. Further, according to the American Lung Association , adults get an average of two to four colds per year.
With the spread of germs and viruses made even easier by the need to stay indoors during the winter months, it’s important that we take preventive measures to protect ourselves from illnesses that can quickly turn severe.
Here are a few steps we recommend taking this cold and flu season:
- Get your annual flu shot. It’s simple, quick, safe and adaptive, meaning each year’s vaccine is updated in an attempt to best protect against the current viruses. You should try to get your flu shot as early in the season as possible, but any preventive care is good preventive care.
- Make sleep a priority. One of the best tools at your disposal for creating a strong, healthy immune system is a good night’s rest. Practice good sleep hygiene, like avoiding sources of blue light such as your phone screen, and aim for at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night to give your body the chance to recharge and produce proteins essential to immune cell growth.
- Exercise regularly. Research shows that moderate exercise plays a major role in increasing the circulation of immune cells throughout the body, which can help better protect you from infection. As a bonus, it also helps you sleep easier and can alleviate stress. Aim for at least 30 minutes per day, and don’t be afraid to get creative with the weather. You could pursue indoor activities like visiting your local gym or attending a structured class, like dance or aerobics. Or you could venture outside and try some winter sports like skiing or even sledding to work up a sweat.
- Hydration is key. Among its numerous benefits, regular water consumption also performs two functions important to your immune system: it carries oxygen to your cells, and it flushes bacteria and infectious toxins away from them. Aim for 8-10 glasses of water daily and avoid activities that actively dehydrate you like smoking or alcohol consumption.
- Dress appropriately for the weather. Researchers say that wearing layers in cold weather can help you avoid physiological conditions that make your body more susceptible to catching viruses. Don’t skimp when it comes to a warm coat, hat, scarf, gloves, or earmuffs when dressing to go outside. When temperatures are predicted to fluctuate, wear layers that you can remove or put on as needed.
- Get the necessary nutrients. Nutrients like zinc and Vitamins C, D, and B12 have been proven to aid your immune cells and protect your body from bacteria and fungi. Prioritize a diet of foods that are rich in these nutrients, such as orange juice, salmon, tuna, tomatoes, broccoli, oysters and red meat. You can also take supplements for an extra boost of valuable vitamins and minerals.
- Stay home. It might go without saying, but if you’re experiencing a fever or any flu symptoms at all, the best thing you can do for your health and the health of your peers is to stay home. Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever has alleviated, and don’t hesitate to seek medical care if your condition worsens or give you any cause for concern.
Help protect yourself, your coworkers, your friends, and your loved ones by taking preventive steps to stop the spread of illness this winter.
“Can Winter Make You Sick?” Northwestern Medicine, www.nm.org, September 2022.
“Facts About the Common Cold,” American Lung Association, www.lung.org, March 27, 2023.
Nieman, D. C., & Wentz, L. M. “The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system.” Journal of sport and health science, Nov. 16, 2018.
Tokars, J. I., Olsen, S. J., & Reed, C. “Seasonal incidence of symptomatic influenza in the United States,” Clinical Infectious Diseases, May 15, 2018.