Cold weather is tough on our bodies. So it’s not surprising that, as a family doctor, I spend a good part of my days peering down throats and otherwise examining patients who have been stricken by wintertime ailments such as colds and flu. To keep myself well, I’ve developed my own “winter protection program,” which includes several simple immune-boosting steps in addition to frequent handwashing. My winter-survival secrets…
- Humidify and hydrate. Most heating sources lower humidity, drying and inflaming the mucous membranes of our eyes, nose, throat and lungs. This makes us more vulnerable to cold- and flu-causing germs. My advice: Purchase a small device known as a hygrometer (available at hardware stores for $30 or less) to keep an eye on the humidity of your home. Research varies on optimal humidity levels, but I strive for about 40%. I also use a warm-mist humidifier for a few hours in the bedroom each evening to keep the humidity levels stable. Other humidifiers are available, but whatever type you choose, be sure to keep it clean to avoid releasing mold and allergens into the air. Rinse it out with a 50/50 vinegar/water solution about three times a week. Also, without summer heat to remind us, some people forget to drink enough water. Doing so in winter is just as important as it is in the summer!
- Eat the right fruits and veggies. Antioxidants, including vitamins A, C and E, help keep us well during winter months. My advice: To get the biggest antioxidant boost from your food, make powerhouse veggies, such as squash (acorn, butternut and pumpkin), carrots and leafy greens, as well as “super” fruits, including berries and citrus, a routine part of your winter diet. Frozen berries and fruit are good alternatives if fresh produce looks a bit peaked.
- Get outdoors. Cold fresh air is invigorating. Our bodies respond to it by bringing blood to our skin and lungs to keep us warm and our blood oxygenated. This gives our entire circulatory system a boost. My advice: Spend 15 to 30 minutes outside each day. If you are unable to do so, open a couple of windows for about 15 minutes each morning. You’ll feel some coldness, but the real payoff comes from breathing the fresh, oxygen-rich air.
- Take an immune-boosting herbal. As extra protection against colds and flu, I use elderberry, an immune-boosting herb, throughout the winter. My advice: Take one tablespoon of elderberry syrup or fresh juice…or one-quarter teaspoon of tincture daily, mixed with water if desired. Sambucol is my favorite brand of elderberry syrup.
- Try vitamin D (2,000 international units daily). It can also help prevent colds and flu, but check with your doctor first, since it may interact with certain medications.
- Get extra sleep. Years ago, a landmark study found that people who slept eight to nine hours a night in the winter months had fewer colds and flu than those who got less sleep. My advice: Get at least eight hours of sleep per night November through February.
Be well and enjoy your winter this year!