20 Habits That Slash Your Flu Risk


It's that time of the year again when that dreaded three-letter word starts creeping into far too many conversations: the flu. If you want to slash your risk of contracting America's most contagious and least favorite virus—and emerge from flu season unscathed—follow these expert tips listed here. And for more amazing health advice you can put into practice, check out these 40 Healthy Habits Everyone Should Adopt By 40.

Yes, Getting a Flu Shot

Getting a flu shot is your best chance of getting through flu season without getting sick. Dr. Richard P. Morel, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for New York-based CareMount Medical calls the flu vaccine "the number one step you can take to prevent the flu." Dr. Morel suggests that everyone who can get the vaccine opt for it, but particularly advises it for children, pregnant women, senior citizens, and people with chronic medical issues. Even if you haven't already gotten the vaccine, late is better than never. "While most get the flu shot in the fall and during a back-to-school checkup, there is still time to get the vaccine and protect yourself and your family," says Dr. Morel.

Washing Your Hands

Washing your hands is second only to the flu shot when it comes to keeping yourself healthy. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after meals, after you use the bathroom, and frequently throughout the day, especially if you're in contact with other potentially-sick people, and you'll limit your risk of catching the flu. Not sure you're scrubbing successfully? And for more genius ways to stay healthy, see these 33 Simple Health Tweaks That Will Add Years to Your Life.

Loading Up on Zinc

The right foods may be able to help you stay flu-free, as well. According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, zinc-rich foods, like oysters, beef, lamb, chicken, spinach, pumpkin seeds, and cashews can all boost your immune system, potentially reducing your risk of catching the flu.

Taking Probiotics

Popping some probiotics may help you stay healthy and keep those flu germs from taking you down for the count. According to a meta-analysis published in the Korean Journal of Family Medicine, probiotic supplementation helped reduce the effects of a common cold, potentially indicating more widespread immune-boosting properties.

Ditching the Drinks

When flu season hits, stop hitting the bar. Research published in Alcohol Research Current Reveals suggests that alcohol has an immunosuppressive effect, so if you want to stay healthy, opt for a seltzer instead. And if you need more incentive, read up on the Worst News Ever: Why One Drink a Day Can Shorten Your Lifespan.

Avoiding Contact With Sick People

It may seem obvious, but one of the easiest ways to stay healthy is to steer clear of people who have the flu. Dr. Morel recommends avoiding contact with anyone who might have the flu, particularly if you haven't had your flu shot.

Using Echinacea Supplements

While echinacea has been a staple in holistic circles for years, research suggests it may actually be worth taking during flu season. Research published in Autonomic and Autacoid Pharmacology reveals that animal test subjects given echinacea supplements had increased white blood cell counts, suggesting an immune system-boosting effect.

Skipping the Vapes

If you're eager to stay flu-free, it's time to kick the vapes, at least for the time being. Research published in PLoS One reveals that exposure to electronic cigarette smoke reduced antiviral and antibacterial responses in animal test subjects, suggesting that it might just increase your risk of picking up bugs, too.

Keeping Your Hands Away From Your Face

Want to fend off the flu? Start by keeping your hands off your face. Touching your face, particularly mucous membranes like those inside your nose or mouth, during flu season after coming into contact with potentially-contaminated surfaces can significantly increase your risk of becoming ill.

Disinfecting Surfaces at Home and Work

Washing your hands is a good way to reduce your flu risk, but it won't do much if you're constantly coming into contact with contaminated surfaces. Whenever possible, wipe down potentially-contaminated surfaces with antibacterial cleansers, whether that means giving your keyboard a thorough cleaning or wiping down the handle of your grocery store cart before using it.

Staying Home When You're Sick

If you're not feeling well, call out of work for both your health and the health of your co-workers. Not only will limiting your contact with other people keep you from spreading the flu, getting adequate rest may help shorten the course of your illness. Dr. Morel recommends staying at home at least until your fever has subsided.

Getting Plenty of Sleep

A little sleep can go a long way when it comes to staying healthy. A study of twins conducted at the University of Washington reveals that sleep deprivation had a significant immunosuppressive effect, so make sure you're getting at least seven uninterrupted hours every night.

Getting Some Controlled Sunlight

You might not feel like spending much time outside during the chilly days that tend to coincide with flu season, but getting a little sunlight can do wonders for your health. Researchers at Queen Mary University in London found that vitamin D deficient subjects who increased their vitamin D intake reduced their risk of developing respiratory infections, like colds and the flu, by as much as 50 percent. Luckily, just 15 minutes a day should do the trick.

Adding Some Garlic to Your Meals

Want to beat the flu? Bring on the garlic. Research suggests that garlic has an antimicrobial and antiviral effect, and has been suggested as a preventative for the common cold. So, make your food a bit more flavorful and you might fend off the flu, too.

Covering Your Mouth and Nose

Covering your mouth and nose when you get sick will not only help reduce your risk of catching the flu, it may keep others safe from your germs, too. Dr. Morel recommends covering your mouth and nose whenever you feel a cough or sneeze coming on, as well as ditching used tissues to avoid further contamination.

Not Sharing Dishes or Cups

Flu season is not the time to share your food or drinks with others. Just one bite off your fork or a sip from your drink could be all it takes to make you sick. Don't share your snacks or beverages with anyone else during flu season, and do your best to thoroughly wash your dishes when you're through with them.

Bulking Up on Omega-3s
Mitch Mandel and Thomas McDonald

A little salmon on your plate could mean a lot less illness in the future for you. Research published in Cell reveals that animal test subjects provided omega-3-derived lipid mediator protectin D1 reduced their risk of severe flu symptoms, including death.

Trying to De-Stress

Making it through flu season in one piece starts with de-stressing. According to the American Psychological Association, stress can weaken the human immune system, potentially making you more susceptible to illnesses like the flu. So, when everyone around you seems to be getting sick, try to incorporate some relaxing activities, yoga, meditation, or even a long bath, into your routine.

Exercising Regularly

Fight the flu and that spare tire in one fell swoop by keeping up your exercise routine during flu season. Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reveals that physically active adults had fewer respiratory infections than their inactive counterparts. This suggests that physical activity may improve immune health, potentially keeping you flu free.

Talking to Your Doctor

When in doubt, talk to your doctor about what measures you can take to prevent the flu or shorten its duration if you do catch it.  While being proactive about fending off the flu is a good first step, you don't need to let it sideline you if you do fall ill. Your doctor can suggest medication to reduce the effects of your illness and get you back on your feet in no time. And for more ways to protect your health, here are 25 Subtle Ways Your Body Is Saying, "Go to the Doctor!"

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