Top 10 tips to prevent the flu

Most health specialists agree that the flu shot is the most effective way to stop a virus in its tracks. And this year, to guard against the H1N1 virus (or swine flu) an additional vaccine may also be available at the end of October. Add this to the regular flu shot — and it may seem like a more aggressive measure than one might prefer.

Nevertheless, the shots are recommended and so is a healthy lifestyle that includes a regimen to build immunity. Take a look at these top 10 tips to achieve it:

– Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

– Use a tissue, sleeve or elbow for a sneeze and cough since hands spread germs more quickly.

– Don’t touch your face in public until you’ve washed your hands.

– Drink plenty of fluids to flush germs out of your system while you hydrate.

– Get fresh air to beat the indoor recycled heat and to keep your body moist.

– Take natural supplements to boost your immune system. A unique North American ginseng extract (sold as Cold-FX) has been shown to boost the immune system and reduce the risk of colds and flu by up to 89 per cent.

– Eat foods containing vitamin-boosting phytochemicals like dark green, red, and yellow vegetables and fruits.

– Do aerobic exercise regularly to pump oxygen from your lungs to your blood, increasing the body’s natural virus-killing cells.

– Cut out alcohol since it suppresses the immune system and dehydrates the body, slowing your recovery.

– Relax quietly or meditate for at least 30 minutes every day to activate your immune system.

Stress and sickness

Chronic stress has long been associated with increased risk for heart disease and other serious health problems – and some experts say that stress may be associated with outbreaks of colds and flu.

The reason? Prolonged stress can weaken the immune system. “There’s a fair amount of evidence from epidemiology and viral challenge tests that people exposed to chronic stress are at greater risk of catching a cold,” Sheldon Cohen, at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh told ABC News.

Here are some simple ways we can help to reduce stress, according to the International Stress Management Association.

Smile. Even if you think you don’t have much to smile about, the physical act of smiling releases feel-good hormones, while the stress hormone – cortisol – is reduced.

Get your zzzs. Getting enough sleep is important for maintaining a healthy immune system. Chronic sleep deprivation can also affect your energy and performance at work, which can be a factor in raising stress levels.

Exercise. In addition its other healthful benefits, exercise reduces stress by releasing endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and feel-good hormones. It also improves blood-flow to the brain, helping you to think clearly.

Think positive thoughts. Even during difficult times, it’s important to try to maintain an optimistic outlook. Negativity only increases stress, and studies have shown that people with a ‘positive emotional style’ do better at warding off illness.

Reach out to others. If you’re feeling anxious, don’t suffer in silence. During difficult times, it’s particularly important to reach out to your network of friends, family, co-workers and other people for practical help or a sympathetic ear.

Practice relaxation techniques. Reduce stress with good relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep-breathing exercises and meditation. Or simply give yourself a relaxing evening by turning off the news and your cellphone, and tuning into a good book or your favourite relaxing music.

Hug a lot. Make sure you get and give your fair share of hugs. Not only does hugging feel good, it has been proven to help reduce stress levels.

To find out if any of your lifestyle choices are putting your immune health at risk take this quiz at:

Photo © Sharon Dominick