Each year, nearly 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu-related symptoms. Thousands more suffer at home. This pesky virus affects the respiratory system and can easily spread through households and workplaces. The most susceptible are the elderly, young children or persons with other health problems, but anyone can fall prey to the flu. Symptoms, which include fever, cough, headache and muscle aches, usually start about one to four days after being exposed and last two to seven days. Complications may include pneumonia, hospitalization, and death. That is definitely something you do not want to mess around with!

We all know about flu shots, but here are 10 additional ways from “Prevention Magazine” (available on Zinio!) to boost your immune system and lower your chances of getting sick this season:

  1. Drink plenty of water – Staying hydrated helps the immune cells in your mucous membranes defend against cold viruses.
  2. Get plenty of sleep – Insufficient sleep can compromise your immune system and reduce the number of cells that fight germs. A study at Carnegie Mellon University revealed that even test subjects that felt rested after seven hours of sleep were almost three times more likely to get a cold than those who got eight hours of shut-eye.
  3. Reduce stress – There is no doubt that stress is a big immunity buster. Science shows that chronic stress results in a measurable decline in your immune system’s ability to fight disease. One way to combat the physical effects of stress is to meditate or find ways to relax. A University of Wisconsin study showed that subjects who practiced meditation reduced their chances of catching a cold by 40-50 percent.
  4. Exercise regularly – A study at Appalachian State University revealed that daily exercise, which boosts blood flow and helps circulate immune cells throughout the body, allowed subjects to spend 43 percent fewer days with upper-respiratory infections.
  5. Wash (and dry!) your hands often – Regular hand-washing is not a new mandate for avoiding illness, but did you realize it is also important to make sure your hands are dry? Germs cling to your skin more easily when it is wet, so take care to dry your hands thoroughly each time. Also, remember to regularly replace wet and damp towels with dry ones.
  6. Eat immune boosting foods – Foods such as mushrooms, garlic, yogurt, beef, tea and even chicken soup can supercharge your immune system and help it to defend against germs.
  7. Cut down on sugar – Sugar, whether natural or added, has been shown in a study at Loma Linda University to reduce the ability of white blood cells to fight infections. This effect can last for several hours after you ingest sugar, so too much sugar throughout the day can lower your resistance for a long time.
  8. Be more social – Being around lots of people may seem counterintuitive, but doing so has psychological benefits such as greater optimism and lower risk of depression, which can boost your immune system.
  9. Try probiotics – Probiotics are often called "good" or "helpful" bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy. Eating food or supplements that contain probiotics, such as lactobacillus, can reduce the risk of both respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. Studies have shown that people taking probiotics were 42 percent less likely to get a cold than those on a placebo.
  10. Don’t worry, be happy - Research supports the idea that people who have a positive outlook have less stress-related damage to their immune system and are better able to resist illness. Laughter can also be beneficial in keeping you healthy by decreasing certain stress hormones. Studies indicate that watching a funny video can significantly activate components of the immune system. So, try to see the glass as half full and carve out time on your weekly agenda to share a few belly laughs with friends.

May your holidays be merry, bright and healthy!

Linda is the White River Branch Manager and leader of our staff wellness team. Staying healthy and keeping fit are keen interests of Linda. Her goal is to enable others to live a healthy lifestyle through good nutrition, physical fitness and a positive outlook, although (shhhhh) she does confess a weakness for potato chips and Cheetos! Join the conversation at linda@jcplin.org.

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