There are many things to look forward to during winter like cozy family moments involving comfort food and snuggling up with soft, fluffy blankets to watch movies. But the downside of winter is that it is cold and the time of the year we are most prone to illness. Germs always seem to sneak in when you least need it, like when you have a big deadline, or your child has a test day at school. When one member of the family comes down with the cold or flu symptoms, are there ways to boost their immune systems and those of the rest of the family to reduce the chances of you all catching it?
Whilst we can’t make any promises, following these suggestions might mean that you can stop those flu bugs from infecting everyone and limit the duration and severity of anything you do catch. Also these tips can become habits that not only prevent illness from entering your household but also part of a healthy lifestyle.
- Hygiene, hygiene, hygiene: Washing your hands properly and regularly is your first line of defense. Teach your child to wash their hands from babyhood. After using the toilet, sneezing or blowing noses. Before eating, drinking or preparing and handling food. Keep hand sanitizer handy when a family member has flu as an extra precaution. Make sure eating and drinking utensils are not shared and washed properly in hot water. Teach children to cover their mouth or nose when coughing and sneezing and if they don’t have a tissue handy, to sneeze into their arm so that the germs do not go onto their hands. A fun way to show little kids about the spread of germs is to do a glitter demonstration to show them that germs spread onto everything you touch just like glitter on your hands spread onto everything you touch.
- Good Ventilation: It is just as important as keeping warm. Most cold and flu bugs are airborne so open the windows when the weather or air quality permits. Other times you may choose to run an air filter or your heater or air conditioner.
- Regular Exercise: A fit body is less susceptible to illness but don’t overdo it either and definitely don’t exercise while sick. That can put enormous strain on your body.
- Essential Oils: Eucalyptus, tea tree and Rosemary are great tools for supplementing the air we inhale. Eucalyptus is a decongestant with antiviral properties and helps reduce mucus. Rosemary is an expectorant that helps in cases of sinusitis and bronchitis. Add a few drops of one or a blend of these oils to water in a spray bottle to create a room mister. Another good way to use oils is with steam, a few drops on the shower floor or added to the bath, basin or humidifier. Or you can introduce this steam into the environment with a pot of boiling water and a few drops of oil. The steam is also beneficial to the mucus membranes and the essential oils help to detoxify the air in shared areas.
- A Balanced Diet: Whole unprocessed, natural foods is crucial to staying healthy. When you are sick or exposed to someone who is, one of your best defenses is diet. When making that chicken noodle soup for your sick child, consider making it for the whole family. Limiting sugar, trans-fats and processed foods is very important as countless studies show that these foods increase inflammation. Use food as your medicine. Eat a variety of protein rich foods, healthy fats, low GI carbohydrates and ramp up your fruit and vegetable intake so that you are getting lots of vitamins and antioxidants into your body. Garlic, ginger, chili and turmeric have all been used by different cultures for centuries to help ward off colds and flu and now science backs that up. Add these liberally to any foods you are cooking or make teas using a blend of whichever ones you prefer and a squeeze of lemon and honey. Honey was shown in one study to be more effective for nocturnal coughs than a common cough medicine.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C helps prevent and limit and cold and flu symptom according to a study. Doses of 1000mg were given for the first six hours and then 1000mg three times a day.
- Olive Leaf Extract: Olive Leaf has powerful antiviral and antibacterial fighting abilities. It can also be taken by family members who are not sick to lower the chances of becoming infected.
- Elderberry: This fruit is a traditional folk remedy for colds, sinusitis and flu. A study has shown that it can shorten the duration of a cold by two days.
- Getting enough sleep: Sleep is critical to your immune system. In a study conducted on twins by the University of Washington, blood tests showed that the twin who was not getting enough sleep had a weaker immune system. If you know that you or your child is not getting enough sleep you need to address the cause of this. Switch off electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime as the lights in these will halt the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. For this reason, make sure bedrooms are as dark as possible and only use red or amber wavelength nightlights like Tick Tock Turtle for children, as these do not interfere with melatonin production. Other natural sleep aids include lavender oil and a warm bath before bedtime. Chamomile tea, tart cherry juice or warm milk before bed is also good to try.
Finally, remember that looking after yourself is the best thing you can do for your health. Nourish your body, move it and limit stress by taking time out to spend with your loved ones while engaging in activities that feed your soul.