How to Stay Healthy this Winter
words | Dr. Karen Prentice D.O. F.A.A.P., medical expert
Late one busy afternoon during flu season, I was charting away on my computer before going to my next patient when a six-year-old boy walked by me and said, “Doctor Prentice, do you live here?” I looked up from my work in a daze and said, “Feels like it honey.”
Flu season, for anyone who works in the medical field, can be extremely busy and exhausting. As a doctor, I have researched ways to help my patients, my family and myself stay healthy. It isn’t easy when everyone around me is sneezing and coughing, but these tips are tried and true:
Tip #1 Wash your hands. I can’t stress this enough. Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after being in a public place, before eating, and before touching your face.
Tip #2 Get at least seven hours of sleep per night. Anything less than seven hours can compromise the immune system, making you three times more likely to get sick.
Tip #3 Eat an antioxidant-rich diet. Food is my favorite topic! I truly believe that by being intentional about what you eat, you can prevent health issues and illness. Try to eat at least three servings of fruits and four servings of vegetables each day. Top choices include sweet potatoes, squash, broccoli, blueberries, prunes, tomatoes, carrots, spinach, kale, citrus fruits and strawberries. Other foods rich in antioxidants include beans, avocado, eggs, mushrooms, fish, nuts and spices such as garlic, ginger and turmeric. Avoid processed foods, sugary foods, fried foods and soda. Limit alcohol to no more than four to six ounces of red wine per day (if you are over 21 and choose to drink alcohol at all!).
Tip #4 Reduce stress. When your body is in a constant state of stress, your immune system has a harder time fighting off illness. Find activities such as yoga, meditation or mindfulness exercises that can help you manage your stress better. Laughter is truly great medicine. Spend time with people who bring joy to your life and make you laugh.
Tip #5 Exercise daily. Even if your time is limited, find a way to get at least thirty minutes a day. Whether it’s walking, hiking, running, biking or working out at the gym, it really doesn’t matter. The act of exercising and keeping a fit body will improve your blood flow, improving the circulation of your immune cells.
Tip #6 Get some fresh air and sunshine. Studies show that those who are nature deprived suffer from more illnesses and infections than those who “play” outside daily. Combining exercise and outdoor time is a great way to avoid illness. If that isn’t your “thing” then just go outside and sit with a friend or a good book. Outdoor time means vitamin D time! Vitamin D is an essential vitamin we get from the sun and certain foods. Those who live in northern climates often suffer from severe vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to depression and increased infections – see tip #7.
Tip #7 Take your vitamins. I believe that even the healthiest of eaters cannot always take in all the vitamins and minerals our bodies need. Take a vitamin D3 supplement to avoid vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to a weakened immune system, increase in bony fractures, depression and exhaustion. I also recommend taking a good multivitamin and probiotic on a daily basis. More and more research is showing that by taking a probiotic (a supplement containing live bacteria that adds to your healthy gut bacteria), you not only will improve your digestive health, but can improve your immune system and possibly your mental health as well. Ask your doctor what doses and supplements are right for you.
Tip #8 Have a cup of tea. The polyphenols found in tea have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which can help reduce inflammation and illness in your body. Drinking green, white or oolong tea have been shown to reduce cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and bacterial and viral infections. Try to avoid canned or bottled teas with added sugars and chemicals and stick to loose-leaf tea or tea bags.
Tip #9 Get a flu shot. According to the CDC, in the last ten flu seasons an average of 34,000 people per year died in the U.S. of influenza – some years reporting as low as 12,000 flu-related deaths and some years as high as 56,000 flu-related deaths. Many of these deaths could have been prevented simply by getting a flu shot. Despite what many people think, getting the flu shot will not give you the flu, although your arm may be sore and you may get a slight fever for a day or so. Ask your doctor if the flu shot is right for you.
I hope this article has empowered you to make some healthy changes in your life. Simple things like a positive attitude, managing your stress, improving your nutrition and exercising a little can make a huge difference. You have the power to improve your health and prevent illness, so get started! I’ll leave you with a quote from Mother Teresa, “Yesterday is gone, tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today, let us begin.”
Dr. Prentice is a physician and author, see more at anappleadaythedoctorsway.com