It’s that season again. The one with lots of coughing, sneezing, sniffling, aching and carrying around large wads of tissues. So how do you protect yourself from colds and the flu, other than staying home from now through May?
Obviously, getting a flu shot should be first on your list. Although no one can predict whether this flu season will be as severe as last year’s, a new study that looked at flu rates among those age 60-plus for the past seven years found that those who got a flu vaccination were up to 58 percent less likely to get the virus.
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In addition, here are five other ways to boost your immune system.
Sleep helps your shot. Not getting enough sleep can weaken your vaccine’s effectiveness, say researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. People who got less than six hours of sleep per night were nearly 12 times more likely to be left unprotected by a vaccine than were those who slept more than seven hours a night, according to a 2012 study in the journal Sleep.
Think “D” for “defense. ” Taking 10,000 international units of vitamin D3 a week may cut your risk of upper respiratory infection in half, Canadian researchers reported. Gargling also helped, according to a study published in May in BMC Infectious Diseases.
Go green. Tea, that is. Green tea contains components called catechins and theanine, which studies suggest may boost the immune system and help prevent upper respiratory tract infections and flu. A Japanese study of health care workers who cared for the elderly found that the two components helped protect the workers against the flu: Of the nearly 200 workers, only four in the green tea group got the flu, compared with 13 in the placebo group.
“C” red, not just orange. Think oranges are the only good source of vitamin C? A cup of chopped red bell pepper contains nearly three times more vitamin C than an orange. While it's still unclear whether vitamin C can prevent a cold in the average person, research does show that eating lots of vitamin C–rich foods may shorten the duration of your cold symptoms.
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Move it. Keeping up your exercise routine in the winter could cut your risk of colds and other upper respiratory illness by almost half, according to a recent study of more than 1,000 Americans ages 18 to 85, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Should you exercise if you already have a cold? The experts at the Mayo Clinic say some mild to moderate exercise may help you feel better, but remember the rule: It’s usually OK if your symptoms are all above or in the neck, such as a congested nose or minor sore throat. Don’t exercise if your symptoms are below the neck, including a bad cough, chest congestion or upset stomach.
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