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Planning a healthy holiday season

 

November 20, 2019



A number of years ago, I remember attending a family Thanksgiving gathering out of town when flu struck several people. One infant and a couple of adults were affected. Suddenly chicken soup was added to the menu. It really put a damper on the festivities.

With Thanksgiving approaching and the busy holiday season beginning, it’s a good time to look at some ways to stay healthy and avoid colds and flu. Information and tips I’m citing come from the October 2019 Prevention magazine.

Of course, the first thing you should do is get a flu shot. Vaccines aren’t perfect, but they’re the best protection we’ve got. One study found a 71 percent reduced rate of hospitalizations for flu-related illness among vaccinated adults. Last year the shot reduced the risk of flu by 25 to 65 percent, depending upon the virus.

I recently finished reading “The Body” by Bill Bryson. One interesting fact I learned is that viruses, including the flu, are more likely to be transmitted by touching a surface an infected person has touched rather than being spread by sneezing and coughing. So watching what you touch and washing hands frequently are good habits.

Prevention magazine says washing hands is more effective than hand sanitizers, according to the Centers for Disease Control. You don’t need to use scorching hot water. It’s the act of rubbing your hands together, plus the addition of soap, that helps keep you healthy. Just remember to dry your hands off completely; wet hands transfer viruses more easily than dry ones.

Hand sanitizers are a good backup, but use a bottle that contains at least 60 percent alcohol to kill germs. To get the most from it, pour a puddle into your palms and dip your opposite fingertips into the liquid before spreading it over the rest of your hands. Then rub your hands together until all the sanitizer is absorbed. I’ve known several school teachers who really rely on sanitizers in the classroom.

Boosting Immunity

Prevention lists several ways to boost your immunity during cold and flu season. First they suggest sipping red wine. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who drink red wine in moderation had a reduced risk of coming down with a cold.

Reducing stress, something that may difficult during the holiday season, is another way to increase immunity. People who practiced mindfulness meditation regularly for eight weeks were sick less often and missed 76 percent fewer days of work than their non-meditating counterparts, found a University of Wisconsin-Madison study. Researchers say the stay-healthy boost might have come from a reduction of stress.

Frequent exercise, even outdoors when it’s chilly, may prevent a cold. In an eight-week study, people who did 45 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a day, like riding a stationary bike or walking briskly, got sick about 30 percent less often than people who remained sedentary.

Supplements are another suggestion. If you have a cold, dose up on zinc and probiotics. Both have been shown to shrink the duration of a cold. Don’t rely on vitamin C; it hasn’t been shown to prevent colds. While vitamin C may shorten the duration and severity of symptoms, it has only a very slight effect, maybe a day. And at very high doses, vitamin C may cause diarrhea, nausea or abdominal cramping.

Finally, to boost immunity, get enough sleep. Research says that when exposed to the cold virus, people who sleep six or fewer hours a night have a greater chance of getting sick than those who snooze seven-plus.

Dodge Germs

Here are some ideas on avoiding cold and flu viruses and other germs:

• Watch out for places where many hands go. Door knobs at work or that candy dish filled with jelly beans, the communal coffee machine or water cooler are reasons to wash your hands often.

• Adopt a bring-your-own policy for doctor visits. People go to doctors when they are sick so germs can linger on those magazines. Bring your own reading material. A local woman told me she reduced her exposure to whatever is going around by keeping her own pen handy instead of using those provided at doctor’s offices and other public locations.

• Shake hands, then shake it off. About one-third of people carry the cold virus on their hands. Keep handshakes firm but short; the longer they last, the more bacteria pass between hands. And wash up later.

• Be sofa-smart at home. The flu virus can lounge around on a couch for hours and on a hard surface, like a coffee table, for days. Before a sick family member takes over the sectional, protect it with a sheet you can throw in a hot laundry cycle once the patient feels better.

• Swipe your cart at the supermarket. You know the wipes your grocery store keeps by the carts that most people never use? When you sanitize the handle, you help wipe away viruses as well as salmonella, E. coli and fecal bacteria (gross, but true).

• At home, clean germ-prone areas once a week with a disinfecting spray or wipe. Clean once a day if you have a sick person in the house. Here’s a checklist: doorknobs, salt and pepper shakers, fridge handle, phones that are shared, dishwasher handle, bathroom faucet, toilet handle, remote, family computers and tablets, light switches.

Here’s hoping you have a healthy holiday season!

 

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