Keep the Flu Grinch at Bay

The holidays are a time for sharing. Unfortunately not everything we share is healthy. Now that the weather is cooler people are spending more time indoors making it easier for the "Flu Grinch" to take hold and put a damper on your holiday fun. The good news is that there are several steps you can take to keep the Grinch at bay so that you and your loved ones can have a happy and healthy holiday season.

Now is the time to develop your cold and flu prevention strategy which should include a nutritious diet, immune-boosting supplements, exercise and plenty of rest. Fresh fruits and vegetables play a key role in keeping us healthy, but most people tend to eat fewer fresh vegetables in the winter. The average adult needs at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day to get the adequate vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants needed to keep the immune system strong. The hardest part of holiday eating is avoiding foods that contain excess sugar and unhealthy fats, such as saturated fats and trans fats. Make sure to keep healthy snacks (like dried fruit or trail mix) handy so you won't be as tempted to eat fat-laden foods.

One of the most important things you can do to ward off winter illness is to wash your hands often. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal found that regular hand washing with soap and water was more effective than drugs in preventing the spread of respiratory viruses such as the flu. Use warm water and soap and wash your hands, up to the elbows if possible, for 20 seconds. Rinse thoroughly to remove soap. Make sure your children understand the importance of frequent hand washing. If you are in a situation where you can't wash your hands with soap and water, alcohol-based gels and wipes can be used.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. These are the "major points of entry" for all kinds of germs, particularly those that cause colds and the flu. If you have the sniffles, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze to prevent others from becoming infected.

Regular exercise also plays a role in boosting your immune system. When it is cold outside it is easy to give in to the "couch potato" temptation. Stay active by joining a gym or taking an aerobics class. Buy a couple of exercise videos that you can use at home. In addition to contributing to strong muscles and cardiovascular fitness, exercise is also an excellent stress buster. Colds and flu are more likely to strike when people are stressed.

Drinking plenty of fluids is another "stay-well" strategy for winter. Fluids, especially water, flush out toxins. The beauty of water is that it is readily available and it has no calories, salt or sugar. Bear in mind that fruits are comprised of 80-90 percent water, so they can be an excellent source for increasing the fluids in your diet.

Consider adding supplements to your diet. Look for immune boosting formulas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 percent of adults use some form of herbs, botanicals and enzymes to enhance their health and boost their immunity. Vitamin C and zinc are especially helpful in strengthening the immune system. Pine cone extract has been used for decades as a homeopathic treatment for colds, cough, inflammation of the mouth and frequent infections. Zinc is a mineral that is needed for a healthy immune system and is often sold as an over the counter natural treatment for the common cold. Echinacea is available as a dietary supplement that can be used to prevent or decrease the duration of the common cold.

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