When everyone around you is sneezing, coughing and complaining of body aches, you may feel destined to join them – but you don’t have to. By following these practical steps, you can outsmart Old Man Winter and keep germs at bay.

Wash Your Hands

Brian Thatcher, a primary care physician with INTEGRIS in Yukon, says scrubbing your hands with soap and water is the most effective way to kill germs.

“I recommend washing hands for at least 20 seconds, but possibly up to a minute,” he says. “This should happen every time you touch someone else, touch your face, after restroom use or before eating.

“In the absence of soap and water, alcohol sanitizers are the next best thing. They are not quite as effective, but do kill 98-99 percent of germs. I would recommend sanitizing any objects you touch in public and the frequent application of hand sanitizer.”

Watch What You Eat

“Nutrition is often underrated as a contributor to the immune system,” says Adam Greer, a primary care physician with St. John Clinic in Tulsa. “For the majority of the population, the closer you can get to a whole-food, plant-based diet, the better. Getting at least five fruits or vegetables per day – along with nuts and legumes, while limiting or eliminating sweets, processed foods and meat – is a great way to help keep your immune system at its peak performance. The antioxidants in fruits help fight off infection and fuel your immune system to work well.”

Get a Flu Shot

More than 900,000 people were hospitalized and more than 80,000 people died from the flu last winter, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu season typically runs from October to April and, while it’s best to vaccinate early, January isn’t too late to get a flu shot.

“With the restart of schools, the peak is usually somewhere around February or March, so the flu shot is better the earlier you get it,” Thatcher says. “The flu shot is not 100 percent protective, and it is not a guarantee that you will not get the flu. However, those who do get the flu tend to have a milder illness.”

He adds that the flu vaccine not only protects you, but it helps protect those around you as well.

“There are many in the community who are unable to get the flu shot,” he says. “Having more people in the community immunized slows the spread of the flu and helps protect those who cannot be immunized.”

Exercise

“Getting 150 minutes of moderate-level-intensity exercise per week for at least 15-minute intervals is a very good way of keeping your immune system in top shape,” Greer says. “A sedentary lifestyle of sitting or lying in one place for over an hour should be avoided. Frequent breaks to get up and walk or move around are helpful for pumping white blood cells through our lymph system and throughout the body to fight off infection before we realize that a virus has gotten into our system.”

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