When cold weather hits, you prepare your house by checking the furnace and making sure your car has the proper fluids. “Winterization” applies to your car, your house and your body.
To ward off those winter-to-springtime change-of-season sniffles, think back to what your mom told you: Eat right, go to bed early and to stop touching everything.
Her advice has apparently withstood the test of time. Carl Wurster, chair of the Allied Health Department at Brown Mackie College-Boise, provides us with 10 tips on ways you can stay healthy the remainder of the winter.
1. Exercise more. You’ll help ward off sickness if you’re in good shape. The body does not go from marginal to excellent health in a short time. Regular exercise increases blood circulation and you also tend to drink more water when you exercise, which increases adrenalin secretion.
2. Eat more protein and good fats. “If you’re not in good shape, adjusting your diet is the best thing you can do,” Wurster said.
“Proteins contain immune globulins, which the body uses to fight viral and bacterial infections,” he added. “Proteins also contain chemicals that make up antibodies. You naturally crave foods with higher fat content in the winter because when the sun gets lower in the sky, your body increases the production of dopamine. That’s the chemical that makes you feel good. Almonds and yogurt are good fats that help maintain body temperature.”
Dark chocolate is loaded with dopamine. It makes the brain feel better. Even if you gain five or 10 pounds during the winter and early spring, the insulation helps protect you from the cold.
Don’t worry, because your appetite for rich foods drops in the summer. It’s all biochemical.
3. Drink more water to prevent hypothermia. We drink less water in the winter because we’re not as thirsty. Mountain climbers and hikers know that inadequate water leads to dehydration and frostbite. Without enough water, the mucus in your throat gets thicker and sets you up for pneumonia.
“Some people die of pneumonia during the winter and early spring because they don’t have the normal clearing functions to get the bacteria and viruses out of their system,” Wurster said.
The change-of-season weather, when you think it’s OK to leave home with a thin jacket, can lead to severe colds.
4. Get enough sleep. Most people sleep longer in the winter because it’s colder and they’re not very active. Increased sleep causes a big change in cortisone secretion from your adrenal gland—which has a positive effect on the immune response.
Adequate sleep lowers your chances of picking up a bug.
5. Take your vitamins. By taking vitamin C and other supplements you lower your chances of picking up an upper respiratory infection.
The average person has 2.3 colds a year, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation.
6. Lower the thermostat at your home. We often set thermostats too high during the winter months. The humidity dries out the mucus in your respiratory tract, increasing the chance of an infection.
Before leaving your house for a short trip to the market, open several windows for a few hours to circulate the air.
7. Wash your hands. Beware of fomites. “Viral bugs thrive on fomites, which are communal objects, that we all touch—like door handles or phones,” Wurster said.
After thoroughly washing your hands, use the paper towel to open the restroom door.
8. Take more showers and fewer baths. The steam from a shower helps loosen the mucous membranes.
“That’s why steam rooms are good for you during the winter and spring,” Wurster added.
9. Don’t invite sick people to your house. Sick friends and relatives should stay home. The same goes for the workplace. Airplanes are the main vectors for the spread of disease caused by re-circulated air.
Try to keep your hands away from your nose and mouth until you de-plane and then wash your hands.
Or, better still, always keep a small bottle of antibacterial hand sanitizer with you.
10. Don’t overuse antihistamines and decongestants. This dries up the mucous membranes, making them a haven for infections.
When was the last time Wurster had the sniffles? It’s been several years. He’s taking his mother’s advice.