7 Ways to Avoid Colds and the Flu

You don't want to spend this winter battling a runny nose, a nagging cough, or a fever. But colds and flu come with the season, right?

They don't have to. Try this advice:

Get a flu shot

"The best time to get the flu vaccine is in October or November, but getting the vaccine later is better than not getting it," says Thomas Weida, M.D., spokesman for the American Academy of Family Physicians. More than 36,000 Americans die each year of flu complications, according to the CDC. The young, elderly, and chronically ill are most at risk, but "almost everyone can benefit from the vaccine," he adds. Two things to remember: Flu shots don't cause the flu, and getting a flu shot won't protect you against the common cold.

Wash your hands

If you are around people who may have a cold or the flu, wash your hands often. "It sounds trite, but hand-washing is so fundamental and so critical," says H. Timothy Dombrowski, D.O., an internal medicine specialist in Stratford, N.J. At the office, for instance, if you share a phone or a keyboard, or touch public door handles, wash your hands. This also applies if you're out shopping or in another public place. Using soap and water for 10 seconds or more is best for cleaning cold viruses off hands, according to a 2005 University of North Carolina study. If you don't have access to soap and water, consider carrying an alcohol-based hand cleaner with you.

Use tissues, then toss them

"Don't stuff them back in your pocket. Also, tissues that you use and toss away are a better choice than handkerchiefs," says Dr. Dombrowski.

Avoid people who look ill

"Catching a cold is hand-to-hand combat," says Dr. Weida. If you shake the hand of someone who has a cold or the flu, there's a greater risk you'll become ill. "All it takes is a brief exposure, then you rub your eyes, nose, or mouth—and you're infected."

Eat a balanced diet

Include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, Dr. Weida says. Try to get most of your nutrients from food, "but if you're unable to eat well, it's not a bad idea to take one multivitamin each day." Megadoses, however, don't help.

Get plenty of rest

The average person needs seven to eight hours of sleep a night, says Dr. Weida. Teens and older adults may require eight to nine hours. You should feel rested when you wake up.

Keep stress in check

"Stress can lower your immunity to colds and flu," says Dr. Weida. "So exercise regularly and don't allow tension to build."


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