Catching a cold or the flu is often a miserable reality of the winter months. And while there’s no stopping it once the bug is already in your system, there are ways to make it less dreadful. It all comes down to how you take care of yourself.
“You want to make sure that your immune system, which absolutely depends on getting the right nutrients on a daily basis, is being nurtured and supported,” Jonny Bowden, a health expert and board-certified nutritionist, told HuffPost. “The goal, once you get sick, is to reduce the number of days you’re out of commission.”
Looking for ways to keep your sickness at bay? Here are some expert-backed tips to help keep your immune system as healthy as possible and make that pesky cold suck a little less.
Take your vitamins.
Zinc and vitamin C are both necessary for a thriving immune system. Whole grains and milk contain zinc, and oranges, strawberries and pineapples are high in vitamin C. You can also take a supplement, Bowden said. (Just don’t expect it to stave off your cold entirely.)
Get more rest than you usually do.
Take naps when you can, and make sure to go to bed as early as possible in order to get the optimal amount of sleep overnight.
“Your immune system needs rest to regenerate,” Dr. Ian Tong, chief medical officer at Doctor On Demand, told HuffPost in an email. “You can help maintain a healthy immune system by sleeping regularly.”
Cool it on your workouts.
Exercise is key to staying healthy, but once you’ve caught a bug, it’s best to put off those HIIT workouts for a few days.
“If you are an exercise enthusiast,” Tong said, “consider turning the intensity level down a few notches to light walks until you are feeling better.”
Keep that stress in check.
Mental health and physical health go hand in hand, and stress can wallop your immune system, according to Bowden. Looking for a way to keep calm? Try one of these simple stress relievers.
Drink lots of water.
Staying healthy means staying hydrated. Water is vital to your immune system’s functioning, and when you’re sick, you’re more likely to be depleted of H2O.
“Staying hydrated with water, decaffeinated tea, sport drinks and sugar-free drinks are best to help fight dehydration associated with fever,” Tong said.
Don’t skip meals.
Even if you don’t have much of an appetite, Tong says, you should still try to eat as regularly as you can.
“Getting sick is work,” he said. “Your body burns calories to fight against illness so be mindful of providing the much needed fuel it needs to win the battle.”
Save your energy.
Sorry, that means no office happy hours or dinners with friends. Every moment you’re not doing something absolutely vital to your life (sadly, the world doesn’t stop whenever you’re sick), you should be relaxing, Tong emphasized.
“Let yourself rest, recuperate and allow your body to recover,” he said. “Pushing your limits will take away important energy your body needs to get better.”
Stay home from work.
Experts warn against trudging to work when you’ve got a bad bug. Not only is your body not getting rest, you’re also risking your co-workers’ health. Offices are often contained spaces that make the perfect conditions for spreading germs.
Stay away from chilly temperatures.
Cold offices can do more harm than good. If you absolutely can’t take the day off, see if you can work from home, or else wear whatever you need to keep yourself warm.
“Bacteria and viruses thrive at cooler temperatures, so if you’re fighting a bug, it’s best to stay warm and dry,” Tong said.
Practice good hygiene.
That means washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap, and also paying attention to what you touch, Tong said.
“If you’re touching door handles or tray tables, make sure to properly wash your hands right after,” he said. “If you don’t have access to a sink and soap, use hand sanitizer and spread it around both hands until it dries, or you can use disinfectant wipes to help clean your surroundings.”
Finally, if you’re absolutely miserable, see your doctor.
This is especially true if you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, chills or intense fatigue. It’s crucial to start flu treatment within 48 hours of it developing, Tong said.
“If you want to feel better faster, see a doctor as soon as you can,” he said. “If you fall outside the window, Tamiflu [a flu treatment medicine] will not be effective, but your doctor can still recommend symptom relief so don’t suffer needlessly.”
Hopefully you’ll be on the mend soon!