10 Simple Ways to Fend Off Colds and Flu

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No one is immune during cold and flu season. Winter weather is a breeding ground for germs that pass from person to person with ease. Coming down with "something" may require a pricey trip to the doctor or a small fortune spent on medications. Rather than giving in to what seems like the inevitable, boost your immunity and stay healthy by following these painless and cheap tips.


This simple prescription is the single most effective way to stave off illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend using warm water and lathering up for a full 20 seconds (gauge the time by singing the birthday song through twice). In the absence of soap and water, a hand sanitizer will suffice temporarily. Choose a product that's alcohol-based and note its limitations -- the sanitizer doesn't kill all germs but helps reduce their number until you can wash properly.


Germs are invisible to the naked eye, so when you're out and about or someone at home is sick, you don't know when you're coming in contact with germs. To stay healthy, avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes -- all entry points for germs -- until you wash your hands.


Vitamin D plays a huge role in helping your body ward off illness. Sadly, many of us don't get enough of it. Rather than soaking up more sun (who can do that in the dead of winter, anyway?), opt for foods rich in vitamin D. These include egg yolks, fish (e.g., shrimp, sardines, wild-caught salmon), cereal, orange juice, milk, and yogurt.


Enclosed crowded spaces are a quick way to catch the latest outbreak of colds and sinus and respiratory infections. While you can't avoid people altogether, try to steer clear of places that tend to be crowded. Concerts, sporting events, hospitals, airplanes, and the subway all qualify. If you must venture into a throng, Everyday Health washing hands as soon as possible, not touching your face, and standing at least 6 feet away from someone who is obviously sick.


Do you feel a cough coming on or want to prevent one? Try a tablespoon of honey. Honey has excellent preventive and healing powers and has been used for centuries (ancient Egyptians and Greeks were big fans) as a healing agent. Honey will soothe your cough and throat, and can help protect against illness. Just be sure to stick with raw, organic honey. The kind with added sweeteners or other ingredients lack the same medicinal benefits.


Drinking plenty of fluids is important year round, and especially so during cold and flu season. Fluids help keep toxins flushed from your system and your cells brimming with important nutrients. In short, staying hydrated keeps your body in working order. Water is the obvious choice, but all fluids count, as do those lurking in unprocessed vegetables and fruit. The best course of action is to drink mostly water and pay attention to signals of thirst your body is sending.


Exercise does a body good, and that translates to keeping illness at bay. The benefits of a good cardio routine include sweating, increased blood flow and oxygen in your blood, and an uptick in your body's ability to ward off sickness. Regular exercise also helps you relax.


Probiotics are good bacteria that make good companions for your intestines and digestive system. Available in the form of pills or food (e.g., kefir, yogurt, miso), they help your gut function properly and prevent nasty bugs from taking root. If you're hit with a gastrointestinal (GI) irritant anyway, keep taking that probiotic. These bacteria can alleviate symptoms, speed up recovery, and even prevent recurrence.


Stress, especially the chronic kind, can wreak havoc on your immune system. While you may not be able to cut down on your stress triggers, you can deal with them more effectively. Deep-breathing exercises, meditation, intentional yoga practice, walking outside, and meditation all help.


No matter how impressive your hand-washing skills, you can't get rid of every last germ. If someone in the household comes down with a cold, flu, or GI bug, switch to disposables. Think throwaway cups, paper towels, and the like. Disposables can take a bite out of your budget, but it's a simple (and short-term) strategy that reduces the spread of germs.