It’s official: cold and flu season is here, and I got burned. It’s been a long time since I got really sick, but apparently my immune system decided it was going to take a break, because I just had a nasty cold that lasted weeks.
I know I’m not alone. To a certain extent, the common cold is unavoidable. This time of year it’s everywhere. I feel like I can’t walk out the door without hearing someone hacking up a lung. But there are some steps you can take to help prevent those awful fall/winter illnesses. The common cold and the flu are slightly different beasts, but in general, the prevention tips are the same. I’ll be honest with you – lots of these tips are probably things you already know. But it always helps to have a little reminder, especially in the midst of the semester when it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. So, from me to you: here’s how to try and avoid the awful cold I just got over.
1. Get a flu shot. The flu is terrible. So why not avoid it entirely and get vaccinated? This is the number one thing you can do to keep yourself from getting really sick this winter. And if you think you’ve made it this far and you’ll be fine, think again. Flu season can last all the way through spring depending on the year, so better safe than sorry. Plus, most student clinics offer the flu shot free of charge. What’s not to love about that? For most people, the flu vaccine is safe and effective. But it’s not for everyone. For more information, check out the CDC’s website.
2. Wash your hands. I know, I sound like your mom. But it’s true. Just think about all the germs sitting around on the door handles and desks you touch all day. And that annoying person in lecture who coughs all over the place without making any attempt to cover their mouth. Ack. Get rid of those germs with a good old fashioned, hand washing.
3. Exercise. Aerobic exercise is especially important for preventing illness. A good cardio workout causes your heart to speed up in order to pump more blood through the body. You breathe faster to transfer oxygen from your blood to your muscles, and when your body warms up you start to sweat. This process helps increase the number of the body’s natural virus-fighting cells.
4. Sleep and relax. Sleep is important for your general health in pretty much every way. But evidence also shows that simple relaxation helps to boost interleukins – the cells that act as your body’s first line of defense against cold viruses. Try some basic meditation techniques: close your eyes, and focus on your breath. Focus on an image that you find pleasant or calming. The catch? Doing nothing, or watching TV, doesn’t count. People who simply sit around don’t show these benefits of relaxation. It’s a skill you have to learn.
5. Eat your veggies. Phytochemicals, the natural chemicals in plants, give vitamins a special boost. So instead of taking vitamin pills, pick up dark green, red and yellow vegetables and fruits. It’s always better to get as many vitamins as possible from your food as opposed to supplements.
6. Don’t smoke. Research shows that smokers get colds more often and more severely. Smoke paralyzes cilia, the tiny hairs in your nose and lungs that help block germs. Just one cigarette can paralyze cilia for 30 to 40 minutes.
7. Stop touching your face. Most of us do this all the time, without even thinking about it. But since most germs enter the body through the nose, mouth and eyes, this is the best way to get yourself sick.
Garnet is a student at Columbia University in New York City. She is “that person” who starts dancing at a party when everyone else is standing around, and if there were a Facebook stalking Olympics, she would be a gold medalist. She also loves cheesy 90s music, and almost died of happiness when Vanilla Ice retweeted her. Once. Follow her on Twitter @garnethenderson.