Healthy for the Holidays

Now that Thanksgiving has past, the holiday season is in full swing. At the same time, this is also cold and flu season and COVID-19 is still very much a concern, as are other viruses including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). In addition, the holiday season itself, with hectic schedules, stress, and lack of sleep, can weaken your immune system making you more susceptible to getting sick. The good news is that there is much you can do to keep yourself and the people close to you healthy for the holidays.

For starters, getting vaccinated (or boosted) against the flu and COVID-19 is the best way to protect yourself. Another basic step in preventing sickness is to wash your hands regularly. Soap and water is best, and there is no additional benefit in using an antibacterial soap. If you can’t wash your hands, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is an acceptable alternative. Keep in mind that hand sanitizers don’t actually clean your hands and aren’t as effective if your hands are dirty.

We may be out of practice on this, but physical distancing when possible and wearing a mask when you are around others, especially indoors, is also effective. Masks and physical distancing are important because COVID, influenza, and common cold viruses are spread through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks loudly, or sings, so avoiding close contact with people who are sick—or who may be sick—is important. If you are sick, it is essential that you stay away from others as much as you can. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or cough or sneeze onto your sleeve to help keep the germs from spreading through the air or on your hands.

People who participate in moderate exercise on a daily basis have fewer and less severe illnesses than people who aren’t regularly active. This is because exercise has the effect of stimulating the immune system, making it better able to respond when you are exposed to cold or flu viruses. Being active every day is essential for the health of your immune system…and the rest of you!

Good nutrition is also necessary for optimal immune system function. Deficiencies in certain nutrients can have a negative effect on immune function, so eating a balanced diet is essential. That said, there is no support for “boosting” the immune system by taking high doses of vitamins, minerals, or other supplements, despite the claims made by supplement companies. The best advice is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, drink plenty of water, and avoid highly processed foods, especially those that contain added sugar.

You can get benefits from two more common-sense recommendations: getting adequate sleep and reducing stress. Poor sleep habits are associated with suppressed immunity and more frequent illness. High levels of stress increase susceptibility to viruses and can lead to more sick days from work or school. Stress and poor sleep habits tend to occur together, creating a double negative effect on the immune system.

By taking these steps, you can improve your chances of celebrating the holidays in good health. As a bonus, eating a healthy diet, exercising every day, managing your stress, and getting enough sleep will give you a head start on what are likely to be New Year’s resolutions.

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