Concern over the threat posed by the H1N1 swine flu is returning to reasonable levels, but there’s a useful lesson to take away from all the coverage. Though we haven’t figured out how to cure viruses, there are a number of easy and efficacious steps you can take to reduce your chance of getting colds and flu in the first place. Indeed, most of what you can do to avoid getting viruses are the kind of good health practices you should be engaging in anyway.
The first thing your doctor, your mother, and recently, even President Obama tell you to do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands frequently, and they’re all totally right. Every time you shake someone’s hand, touch a doorknob, or pick up the coffee pot at work, you may be exposing yourself to a bevy of germs. Thankfully, it’s not necessary to permanently don gloves to keep your hands clean. You don’t even need antibacterial soap. Copious amounts of running water and vigorous rubbing with regular soap for 20 seconds will do the trick.
Though soap and water are always the best option, keeping a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer around can give you extra protection. Also, even if you’re vigilant about keeping your hands clean, try to avoid touching your eyes and nose. These are the primary routes by which viruses can enter your body.
Hand washing is great at keeping bugs out, but a strong immune is still your primary line of defense. An often-overlooked way to strengthen your immune system and keep from getting sick is to get plenty of sleep. A recent study at Carnegie Mellon showed that people who slept less than seven hours a night were three times more likely to catch a cold than people who slept eight hours or more. Obviously, a well-rested immune system is one that’s best equipped to keep you flu-free.
Other than getting enough sleep, the best boost you can give your immune system comes from the same big three that benefit your body in general: eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, get moderate exercise, and work to reduce stress. Just as balanced nutrition that’s heavy on good fats and antioxidants and regular exercise pump up your immune response, stress can impede your body’s ability to stay well.
Thus, the good news is, most of what helps you avoid both seasonal colds and flu and new bugs like H1N1 are things that work you keep you healthy all time. And even if you do get sick, you can rest assured that a your robust immune system will help your body heal itself and get you back on your feet as quickly as possible.