From the Winter 2017 issue of AtlanticView:
You may think getting a cold or the flu in winter is inevitable, but Maria Vila, DO, an integrative family medicine physician at the Chambers Center for Well Being, says, “The main ways to protect yourself from getting upper respiratory infections or flu are to strengthen your immune system through lifestyle choices.”
Here are six tips she recommends:
- Focus on a diet high in fruits and vegetables, particularly those high in vitamin C and zinc. Supplements can be taken to support healthy eating, including vitamin C and zinc supplements, which have been shown to reduce cold duration. Colds are also more common in winter due to a lack of vitamin D. “We’re no longer out in the sun,” says Dr. Vila. “This vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of these conditions.”
- Exercise in moderation. Dr. Vila says to be careful not to overdo it because exercising to the extreme actually depresses immune function.
- Stay hydrated and limit alcohol. “Studies show that if you have more than one to two glasses of alcohol a day, that actually suppresses your immune system,” says Dr. Vila.
- Get adequate sleep. Dr. Vila recommends seven to eight hours a night.
- Reduce stress. Increased stress causes cortisol levels to rise, which weakens the immune response. Meditation is one way to reduce stress. “Meditation has been found to help decrease the number of respiratory infections and shorten their duration, making them less severe,” says Dr. Vila.
- Get a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people get the flu vaccination, especially those at high risk for complications. High-risk individuals include those with asthma; diabetes; heart disease; and who have had a stroke, HIV or AIDS and cancer; as well as those 65 and older; pregnant women; and children younger than five, particularly those under two years old.