In just 1 week I’ve come across 3 people who have been, shall I say, blessed with that “thing that’s been going around”, that thing that hijacked their lungs and knocked them out fast, that thing that probably hitched a ride on the unwashed hand of some unsuspecting strap-hanger riding BART, then arrived at work to touch every door knob, elevator button, and refrigerator handle within a 100 feet of your desk. Now, while warming up your leftovers, you’ve punched your ticket to a camping trip on the couch, armed with tissues and tea, drifting into sniffly solitude and daytime T.V. dreamland.
While an afternoon of Judge Judy and swollen nasal passages may be like a vacation of a lifetime, I’d like to share some tips and info that will help protect you from the bacterial invasion that comes around like the holidays but not as fun:
Wash your hands!
You touch so many surfaces from home to work and back. Make a practice to immediately wash your hands when you arrive at your destination, as well as before eating, after touching a pet, handling trash, etc. Follow up with a simple unscented hand cream to handle dry skin. All it takes is a simple rubbing of the eyes or touching your nose for you to contract a cold or eye infection. Wash for 15 seconds or simply sing “Happy Birthday” twice (to yourself. I think you have to pay royalties otherwise).
Eat well. Avoid sugary, processed foods
Just a 12 ounce soda can (about 75 to 100 grams of sugar) can disrupt white blood cells ability to kill bacteria. The immune system is just that, a system, so you have to treat it holistically which means paying attention to the fuel you are providing your body “machine”.
Eat foods that are rich in vitamin C like oranges and other citrus fruits, broccoli, green peppers,and spinach. Include a healthy dose of vitamin E too, from foods like seeds, almonds, peanuts, and olive oil. Both vitamin C and E are antioxidants (free-radical fighters) and have shown to provide additional support to our immune systems. The jury is still out on whether it speeds up the healing process, but studies have shown that A and E are more effective as a preventative measure. Eating healthy in general is just as important as eating to avoid illness.
Here is a more comprehensive list courtesy of the National Cancer Institute.
Sleep. Get some, get plenty
Studies have shown that sleep and immune system function go hand in hand. According to the Harvard Medical School, people who sleep an average of 7 hours or less were three times more likely to develop cold symptoms than those who got 8 hours or more, who also were least likely to come down with one.
Sleep deprivation can alter hormone levels by encouraging the release of the stress hormone cortisol, feed inflammation, and hinder your immune systems response to infection.
Regular exercise promotes the production of leukocytes, or white blood cells, the frontline soldiers of the immune system. Getting your heart rate up for 20 minutes, three times a week can reduce your risk of catching a cold. Exercise also releases endorphins, or “feel good” hormones, that improve mood and sleep quality.
Easy to suggest and often hard to put into practice, managing stress is also your key to combating illness. Along with inadequate sleep, constant stress leads to the release of the cortisol stress hormone which increases inflammation and immune deficiency. Getting a handle on stress can help you sleep better, lower cortisol, and keep you healthy.
Stress can come from many sources and those of you who are under it constantly, know what I’m referring to. The key is to put into practice, ways to deal with stressful situations as they occur. Deep breathing, counting to ten, or simply going outside to get fresh air can make a huge difference. Try starting a meditation practice. A “mindfulness” study conducted in 2003 by the National Institutes of Health showed that participants who meditated regularly over an 8 week period produced an increased level of influenza antibodies compared to a control group.
Meditating doesn’t have to be complicated. You can simply sit in a chair and breath deeply for 5-10 minutes, focusing on your inhalation and exhalation. You can listen to meditation tracks that help guide you through the process. I can tell you there are a million of them on iTunes. I like listening to the sound of a stream or ocean tides. It’s like white noise and it cancels out the cacophony of thoughts in my head. Yes, I deal with stress too.
I hope this gives you some tools you can use. As you can tell, it takes more than just popping an Emergenc-C every once in a while and leaving it up to chance. Your immune system is a system and requires more input than you would imagine. Taking care of the wholecar is just as important as putting in high quality gas every once in a while. You don’t want it to break down, right? Sorry for the car metaphors.
Have a great weekend. Now go wash your hands.
Roger Chandler, CMT
Chandler Massage Oakland
Get fit. Eat well. Be well.
The information contained in this article is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for treatment by a medical professional.
"Fighting the Flu: 10 Ways to Stay Healthy During Cold and Flu Season." UW Health. University of Wisconson, n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2013. .
"Sleep and Health." Healthy Sleep. Harvard Medical School, n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2013. .
This Is How Germs Spread… It’s Sickening!” This Is How Germs Spread… It’s Sickening! New York Dept. of Health, n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2013.