I never used to take so-called "cold and flu season" all that seriously. I would catch one cold a year, sniffle my way through it, and call it a day.
Then I had kids, otherwise known as vectors. Now I'll be sick half the winter if I'm not careful.
I know there's nothing I can do that will guarantee I won't get sick. But I try to stick to a few easy habits -- none of which require much time or any planning -- that help increase my odds of staying healthy.
1. Wash your hands. All the time. You've heard this, but it can't be stressed enough. And even if you wash your hands constantly, you want to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, because that's how most bacteria and viruses travel into your body.
I wash my hands after riding the train, before eating, before cooking, after being in the kids' schools, before surgery (joking)... the list goes on.
The CDC says you have to wash your hands for 20 seconds for it to be effective. That's about as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice. "Happy Birthday" is now permanently stuck in my head.
2. Protect your hands. The main reason I will skimp on washing my hands is because my hands get terribly dried-out this time of year. So:
- Make sure your hands are completely dry (not damp!) after washing. This helps prevent chapping. It's good to put moisturizer on your hands when they're still damp, though.
- Wear gloves when you go outside, even if you'll only be out for a moment and it doesn't seem horribly cold.
- Wear waterproof gloves when cleaning. I never did this. Now I do. Hot water feels nice, but it dries out your skin. 'Nuff said.
- Moisturize your hands, frequently. If I'll be driving for more than 15 minutes, I slather a ton of moisturizer on my hands, then put on my gloves. It helps.
3. Hydrate. Eight cups of water a day. There are a million good reasons to do this: It helps fight fatigue (key). It keeps your joints moving well, gets your lymphatic system going, and may help your immune system. This time of year, make a point to drink hot water, not cold. It'll do a better job at washing mucous and viruses down into your stomach, where they can't survive.
4. Gargle with warm salt water. I know, this sounds totally gross. But it can soothe a sore throat, reduce inflammation, and wash bacteria and viruses down into your stomach, where your stomach acids will take care of them.
5. Regularly clean all those lovely germ-collection sites, like keyboards, phones, and doorknobs. In the summer, my attitude toward cleaning doorknobs, is, "That's why I have an immune system. So I don't have to clean doorknobs." In the winter, I clean them.
How well does all this work? The 2012 record is pretty good, but not perfect. I'll give you the final score when spring finally arrives. -- Kimberly Weisul
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image courtesy of flickr user SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget