It’s that time of the year again: children come home from school coughing, the lady behind you in the checkout line sneezes in your direction, and your partner claims that half of the office is sick with the flu. When it seems as though the flu virus is all around you, how can you keep yourself healthy?
Aside from quarantining the family until winter is over, there are plenty of ways to ensure that you and your loved ones don’t get sick. Additionally, many of these tips are things you do in your everyday life without even thinking about them. By remembering a couple of key tricks, you can keep your home free from the flu virus.
Once the flu virus enters your home, it can be tricky to keep it contained. To ensure that you and your family don't get sick this holiday season, it's important to take all the precautions necessary to keep the virus out of your home in the first place!
Keep Your Hands Away from Your Face
The virus that causes influenza gets into the body through mucous membranes in the nose, eyes, and mouth. If you touch a contaminated doorknob, then reach up to scratch your nose, it's fairly likely that you’ll contract the flu. This is why it's especially important not to touch your face throughout the day during cold and flu season.
Wash Your Hands Often
Since many individuals often touch or scratch our faces without even realizing it, it’s good practice to begin washing your hands frequently and thoroughly. Any simple soap will do, but make sure you wash thoroughly and get in-between your fingers and underneath your nails. This is especially important after touching any public surfaces, shaking someone’s hand, or coming home from somewhere.
Disinfect All Surfaces
Disinfecting surfaces should be a standard cleaning procedure in the home, but it’s especially important during flu season because the virus that causes the flu can live on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours. 1
Try to ensure that you’re cleaning all surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom, as well as doorknobs, light switches, and remotes. A simple disinfectant spray can be made from vinegar, water, and a mixture of different essential oils like cinnamon leaf, tea tree, clove, oregano, lemon, and peppermint. All of these essential oils can also be diffused throughout the home to help purify the air.
Don’t Accept All Invitations
The winter season is bursting with holiday parties. One of the biggest reasons that people get sick during colder weather is because there are so many people staying indoors around each other. When you attend a holiday party, go shopping at a populated mall, or go out for drinks with your coworkers, you’re entering into a place teeming with germs.
While you shouldn’t avoid every invitation that comes your way, you should be wary of how much time you’re spending time among large groups of people. If you do have to attend a lot of holiday parties, try to steer clear of anyone exhibiting cold or flu symptoms.
Get the Flu Shot
While getting a flu shot won’t guarantee that you’ll stay safe from the virus, it’ll certainly give you better odds. Flu strains are constantly changing, so a new vaccine comes out every year. This is why the flu shot from three years ago simply won’t work against this year’s strains.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone six months or older get a flu vaccine. 2 If your whole house has been vaccinated, it’s much more unlikely that anyone will contract it.
Use a Humidifier
In a study published in 2013, researchers found that higher levels of humidity in the home can significantly reduce the infectivity of the influenza virus. In the study, the flu virus was released into a room from a simulated cough.
In a room where the level of humidity was 23 percent or less, 70–77 percent of the particles were still capable of infecting cells. However, when the humidity increased to 43 percent, only 14 percent of the virus particles were infectious. 3
Eat Your Greens
If you want to avoid bringing the flu virus into your home, you have to avoid contracting the flu virus yourself. While all of the recommendations above will certainly help you avoid the virus, it’s also important to maintain your overall health and eat foods that help support immune system function.
A balanced diet including foods high in vitamin C, D, and beta-carotene can help give your immune system the boost it needs. Try to include spinach, broccoli, berries, citrus fruits, eggs, and fatty fish into your daily routine. It’s also important to get enough zinc from sources such as beans and nuts, as well as probiotics from yogurt and fermented foods. 4
Get a Move On
The amount of physical activity you partake in greatly affects immune system function. If you live a completely sedentary lifestyle, your risk of infection is higher than if you regularly exercise. However, too much exercise can actually wear the body down and leave you at risk for infection. 5
To reach that perfect balance, try to incorporate exercise into your daily routine but never in excess. Instead of meeting a friend for coffee, why not take a walk around the local park? If you’re going to jump in the car to drive a few blocks, try walking or biking that distance instead. Simple things like getting up at regular intervals to talk to your coworkers or walking up and down the stairs of your house a few times can do wonders for your immune system.
A proper night of sleep is essential for optimum health. Studies have shown that even short-term loss of sleep can have detrimental effects on immune system function. For example, sleep loss triggers an immune response that increases inflammation in the body and can cause tissue damage. 6
Adults require seven to nine hours of sleep a night, while children and teenagers are recommended to get nine to eleven. Try to begin relaxing early in the evening, starting to wind down a few hours before you’re planning on hitting the hay.
If you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, diffuse soothing essential oils like lavender, Roman chamomile, or ylang-ylang throughout the room approximately 15 minutes before bedtime. You can also lightly spray your pillow and sheets with a mixture of essential oils and water.
One of the simplest ways you can avoid contracting the flu is to just relax. If you stress out too much about constantly washing your hands, keeping your house impeccably clean, or ensuring your children aren’t touching their faces, you’re going to wear yourself out.
High-stress levels are also linked to a suppressed immune system, which can leave you more susceptible to illness. To promote relaxation, diffuse relaxing essential oils throughout the home or use them aromatically through a personal diffuser.
Cold and flu season is often a much-dreaded time of year, but it doesn't have to be. By following the tips highlighted above, you'll be on your way to making it through this flu season with optimal immune system function, reducing your chances of getting sick.
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