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Dealing with (the Common) Cold Season

Pills and Scrabble tiles that spell 'SICK'The days are shorter, the leaves have changed, and Thanksgiving has come and gone.  For most of us, this means two things: the end of the semester looms, and cold/flu season is upon us.  The added stress of the end of term leads many of us to push ourselves and neglect our bodies in an attempt to meet writing deadlines, attend those last meetings of the term, and get grades submitted on time.  The last thing that any of us needs is to get sick.  So what can you to do safeguard your health and lower your chances of falling prey to a cold this winter?

Sleep. The average person needs 7-8 hours of sleep a night.  According to WebMD, adults who get less than 7 hours of sleep a night are three times more likely to get a cold.

Eat a Healthy Diet. WebMD also suggests that eating dark green vegetables like spinach or broccoli can help to boost your immune system, and that one cup of lowfat (or nonfat) yogurt can also help your body fight off a cold.  Vitamin D, found in many dairy products as well as in fatty fish like salmon, can also help strengthen the immune system.  My mother always encouraged us to consume Vitamin C—I don’t know if that actually helps or not, but I still up my dosage this time of year.  Eating a lot of junk food and overdosing on the caffeine might help you to power through those seminar papers, but they aren’t doing your immune system any favors.  I don’t have anything but anecdotal evidence to back this one up, but I’ve learned this lesson the hard way more than once.

Exercise. We’ve written several other posts extolling the virtues of exercise and promoting a healthy mind-body balance (See Kathleen’s “Prioritizing Exercise” and Natalie’s “Add Exercise to your Conference Schedule” for just two examples), but studies have shown that moderate exercise is not only beneficial for stress levels, but it can also boost your body’s natural defense mechanism and help you to fight off the common cold.  Be careful, however, not to overdo it.  Studies done by researchers at Appalachian State University have indicated that too much exercise can actually make the body more vulnerable to infection or illness.

Wash Your Hands. Germs and bacteria are spread by contact, so it is important to wash your hands frequently.  The rule is to wash your hands for 20 seconds (which is actually a long time when your hands are under the faucet).  If you cannot wash your hands, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to kill germs.

Drink Lots of Water. The average adult should consume 64oz of water a day.  That’s quite a bit more than many of us actually drink.  Staying hydrated helps to support your immune system, and if you do catch a cold this winter, it will help ease your symptoms.  Caffeinated beverages (coffee and soft drinks) and alcohol can actually make things worse by dehydrating the body, so you might consider moderation here.

Use a Nasal Rinse. Neti pots and saline sprays are used to cleanse the nasal passages and sinuses.  Neti pots can take a little getting used to, but I have friends who swear by them.  Basically, they work by pouring warm saline up one nostril and having to drain out the other.  It’s a very strange sensation, but both Oprah’s Dr. Oz and WebMD suggest that use of a neti pot (or saline spray) can relieve sinusitis and help prevent infection.  Just be sure to clean the neti pot with soap and water after use.

Stay Home. If you do succumb to a cold or the flu, sometimes it is best not to try and be a hero.  We all know when we are too sick to go in to work, and yet there are times when we try to go in anyway.  If you really are ill, stay home and rest.  Your body will thank you.  So will your colleagues.  You might even try some chicken soup, either store bought or homemade.

Do you have other tips for staying healthy this winter?  Please share them in the comments section below.

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user TheGiantVermin].

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