Winter is just around the corner, and this means the start of some predictable seasonal phenomena: pumpkin-spiced everything, shopping, the joys (and stressors) of the holidays, and the start of cold and flu season. Whether the weather is frightful in your area or not, one thing is certain: winter is the season of colds!
Why Colds and Flu are Prevalent in the Winter
People sometimes wonder why colds and flus are more prevalent during the winter months. After all, people also get sick in the summertime! However, cold and flu season occurs primarily from October to March for several reasons, according to Harvard University’s Science in the News.
People spend more time indoors and in enclosed spaces in the winter months, which means flu germs can easily spread from person to person in areas that aren’t well-ventilated. The days are also shorter during the winter, which means less nutrients from sunlight, such as vitamin D and melatonin, both of which help boost immune systems. Finally, some studies indicate that the influenza virus has an easier time surviving in colder climates.
Who is Most Susceptible to Colds and Flu?
While everyone is susceptible to colds and the flu, people with compromised immune systems need to remain diligent about keeping colds at bay. At particular risk are people living with potentially weaker immune systems – like the elderly and the very young – as well as those with autoimmune disorders like cancer and HIV. People with spinal cord related impairments also need to be especially vigilant, as is evidenced in this 2016 study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation.
If you or someone in your family is living with paralysis caused by a spinal cord injury or illness, it is extremely important to avoid colds and the flu as much as possible to minimize the chance that it will cause more serious impairments.
How Can I Avoid Winter Colds and Flu?
Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid cold and flu viruses. To help keep yourself – and those around you – healthy and cold-free, consider the following:
Wash your hands frequently
Colds and flu are caused by viruses that can easily pass from person-to-person, so handwashing is essential! We touch our face more often than we realize, and cold and flu germs can take root in your system when transferred from unwashed hands. Keep your hands clean by frequently washing them with soap and warm water.
Use hand sanitizer
Carry a small container of hand sanitizer with you wherever you go. Hand sanitizer is a great option if you can’t immediately get to a sink to wash your hands, and many companies offer small, stylish, and easy-to-carry bottles full of pleasantly scented sanitizer. There are also hand sanitizers without alcohol or other abrasive chemicals in them that won’t dry out or irritate your skin.
Make sure to keep as clean as you can by showering or bathing daily, and avoid wearing the same clothes for multiple days in a row without washing them.
Cover that sneeze!
Cover your mouth and nose whenever you cough or sneeze, but if possible don’t cover your mouth with your hands as it promotes the spreading of germs. Use a tissue whenever possible to avoid unnecessary hand-to-mouth contact. Remind your children to do so as well!
Keep surfaces clean
The flu and colds can also pass from a surface to a person, so be sure to keep surface areas around you clean. Use a disinfectant wipe to keep your telephone, TV remote, computer keyboard, and even doorknobs clean. This is especially important if there are other people in contact with these same surfaces.
Don’t share personal items
Avoid sharing your personal items with others as much as possible to curb the spread of germs. These items can include towels, toothbrushes, kitchen utensils and cups, brushes, and anything else personal.
Get the flu vaccine to minimize the spread of the virus through your family or workplace.
Prioritize proper nutrition to keep yourself as healthy as possible! Fresh fruit is a tasty and healthy option, and citrus is filled with Vitamin C and antioxidants that help to keep you healthy. Eat lots of green vegetables, which have many nutrients your body needs to boost your immune system. These leafy greens include broccoli, arugula, cabbage, turnips, and spinach, to name a few.
Water flushes out your system, so be sure to drink enough water or other non-diuretic beverage. If you’re not a big water fan, green tea is a great substitute some of the time. And it also includes antioxidants, which have a number of health benefits.
Alcohol compromises your immune system, even for a short period. Causing you to be more susceptible to flu and cold germs.
Don’t let the fear of colds and the flu make you shy away from living your day-to-day life. Although it may feel like this will protect your health, it’s actually more likely to compromise it.
Exercise boosts your white blood cell count, which helps your immune system stay as strong as possible. Exercise also reduces and minimizes bodily inflammation, which is great for your overall health and wellness.
Make sure to schedule time with others. An article from the American Psychological Association suggests there may be a link between social isolation and sickness.
Proper sleep hygiene
Getting enough sleep is crucial to staying healthy. Prioritize getting enough quality sleep to keep your body and mind healthy and strong.
Reducing stress in your life is sometimes easier said than done, but the less stress you’re feeling, the more likely your body will be to have the energy and ability it needs to fight off viruses. Make sure to take time for self-care. Try practicing yoga, meditation, or simply curling up with a book or other pleasurable activity that gives you a break during your busy days.
While the winter season can be lots of fun, it’s not so enjoyable to be down-and-out with a cold. Keep these tips in mind to help you bypass dreary winter colds!