As cold weather slowly begins to descend and fall truly starts to hit Texas, more and more people will fall prey to colds, stomach viruses, strep, and the flu. Although it's not entirely clear why humans tend to experience more health problems during colder weather, it's well known that the worst viruses tend to strike from October to March, especially the flu.
Some scientific evidence indicates that our immune systems may be more vulnerable in the winter months because our body is actually producing fewer virus-fighting agents. Cold weather can also trigger stress in the cardiovascular system, leading to blood pressure issues, constricted blood vessels, inflammation, and sometimes even heart attacks. Also, we tend to go outside less, and when we do, it's fairly dark. That means we're receiving less vitamin D, which can play a critical role in your defenses.
So, with the influenza virus getting ready to start its rampage and a host of other nasty viruses waiting to invade, what can you do to stay as healthy as possible?
Flu season is just around the corner, and each year, millions of people across the world are infected by the influenza virus. The good news? An annual flu vaccine can seriously reduce your risk of catching the dreaded illness. Even more good news? The flu vaccine doesn't just protect you: by immunizing yourself, you can help impede the disease's spread and protect those around you who aren't able to receive the shot (young children, the elderly, and the sick). The CDC is recommending that everyone over the age of 6 months get vaccinated before the end of October to nip the spread of the virus in the bud.
Aim for at Least Seven Hours of Sleep Each Night
Chances are, most people who are reading this article are sleep-deprived. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have gone as far as to label insufficient sleep as a public health epidemic in America. Adults need a minimum of seven hours each night, and eight or nine is even better. Teens and children need even more to stay alert throughout the day.
A lack of sufficient sleep can cause people to suffer in numerous ways, including weight gain, impaired driving abilities, and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Getting fewer zzz's can also make you more vulnerable to the cold and the flu. By making sure you're well-rest every night, you can keep your immune system at the top of its game. If you do start to get sick, sleeping enough will also allow your body to conserve energy and fight the illness as effectively as possible.
Keep Exercising Outside, Even When the Weather Is Bad
As we found out before, a lack of Vitamin D doesn't help your body fight off invaders. By getting outside every now and then, you can embrace some sunshine and help prevent high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer while boosting your immune system. Plus, many Americans tend to get a case of the winter blues when the weather isn't good. A daily workout can help put a smile on your face which will boost your overall wellbeing.
Another benefit to exercising outside? There are fewer germs! Viruses love to congregate in highly populated indoor areas, which basically means your gym can be a breeding ground for yucky diseases. Nix the treadmill for an outdoor trail to really give your immune system some extra support.
Wash Your Hands Like It's Your Job
Okay, you've heard this one approximately a million times, but there's a reason: the CDC compares handwashing to a "do-it-yourself" vaccine. The spread of most diseases can be seriously impeded by regular handwashing, and it's a simple thing that everyone can easily do.
Although you might think you know how to wash your hands, there's actually a correct way to rid your fingers of germs. You should use warm water, not hot, and lather your hands thoroughly with soup. Don't skip the back of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails! Doing all of this should take you at least 20 seconds, and you should find a sink to wash up in whenever you prepare food, eat food, use the toilet, change diapers, sneeze, touch an animal, or care for a wound. For more information on how to properly wash your hands, visit the CDC's website.
Try to Reduce Stress in Your Life
When you enter new, challenging situations in your life, your body reacts just as much as your mind does. Overworking yourself and dealing with constant tension can lead to headaches, an upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and trouble sleeping. As your body pumps out stress hormones, your immune system tends to take a hit. Take a deep breath and make sure that you're not pushing yourself too hard. Getting sick will only make things worse, so prioritize your health even when you're running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
Make Your Water Bottle Your New BFF
Water is seriously a miracle worker. Drinking a bunch of H2O oxygenates your blood while flushing out harmful toxins, which can build up over time and weaken your immune system. Water also aids in the production of the lymph that your body's immune system uses to circulate white blood cells and nutrients to your tissues. But wait, there's more! Drinking enough water can help you get good sleep, keep your digestive system running smoothly, and repel dirt and parasites that can be found in your eyes and mouth. Grab a water bottle and aim to refill it 8-10 times a day. Your body will thank you later.