Your Family Flu Prevention Plan
Flu Prevention Tactics 6-10
6. Meditate to de-stress.
You've probably noticed: The more stressed you are, the likelier you are to come down with a cold or flu. Dr. Cohen found that people dealing with chronic stress, such as financial, relationship, or work troubles, were two and a half times more likely to develop a cold.
There's a technique that seems to help, says Charles Raison, MD, clinical director of Emory University's Mind-Body Program. He and his colleagues gave healthy young adults a six-week course in a relaxation method known as compassion meditation, which teaches you how to deal with stress calmly. Those who practiced this meditation for 30 minutes three to four times a week had lower levels of the stress chemical interleukin-6, which may make you more vulnerable to infection, says Dr. Raison. When you are under chronic stress, interleukin-6 remains elevated in the body and stimulates inflammation, which, if too high, can interfere with the part of the immune system that fights infection. Any kind of relaxation training, meditation, yoga, or focused breathing can help you feel more balanced and may help lower the levels of this bad chemical in your body.
7. Stay warm.
Could Mom's advice to "bundle up or you'll catch your death of cold" actually have some truth to it? Yes, says Ronald Eccles, PhD, director of the Common Cold Centre at the School of Biological Sciences at Cardiff University, in Wales. Dr. Eccles and his colleagues had half of a group of healthy people chill their feet in buckets of ice water during cold season. The subjects who'd had the icy dunk were twice as likely to develop colds as the ones who stayed warm and dry. Chilling causes blood vessels to constrict, and when your nasal blood vessels become constricted, your immune system's white blood cells can't travel to your nose as easily to fight off a viral infection.
This is one of the reasons colds and flu skyrocket when temperatures drop. So when you're outside, dress warmly and stay active to keep your circulation going and be sure your kids do, too. Wrapping a scarf around your face to keep your nose toasty can also help. And the moment you or your kids come inside, Dr. Eccles says, "get out of your wet, chilled clothes and put on something warm and dry." Then sip a hot drink or soup to help warm up your nasal passages.
8. Increase your vitamin D.
Vitamin D does more than help your body absorb calcium. It also assists your immune system. Some 77 percent of all Americans, and 97 percent of African-Americans, have lower-than-ideal levels. Adit Ginde, MD, assistant professor in the Division of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado, Denver, and his colleagues studied 19,000 adults and adolescents and found that those with the lowest levels of D were 40 percent more likely to have had a respiratory infection recently than those who had adequate levels. Although the current vitamin D RDA ranges from 200 to 600 IU, Dr. Ginde (and some other experts) recommends 1,000 IU per day for better immune functioning. The most efficient way to get D is with just a few minutes a day of un-sunscreened sun exposure. That can be difficult in winter, so get more D from dairy foods, fatty fish, and supplements.
9. Hit the gym.
Exercise boosts the immune system's ability to fight infection, according to a growing body of research. Recent studies done in postmenopausal women show that 45 minutes of moderate exercise such as a brisk walk five times a week make you three times less likely to get a cold. This should hold true for all age groups because exercise increases the circulation of the body's white blood cells, which help fight infection.
10. Try a surgical mask.
It may seem extreme, but hear us out: If someone is sick at home, consider having the healthy members of the family wear surgical masks. One recent study found that adults who wear a mask when someone in the house has a respiratory illness are four times less likely to contract the virus. This may be particularly important for moms. "Women get more colds than men because of their greater exposure to sick children," says Dr. Eccles.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, December/January 2010.