Natural Ways To Stay Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

Don't Wait Until You Get Sick, Prevent Getting a Cold or Flu Now... Naturally

This is not groundbreaking news, but these are good reminders to be mindful of as we approach the cold and flu season and help prevent yourself and your family from getting sick.

Tips for Preventing the Flu

Go Green (and Red and Yellow and Orange...)

Eating fresh fruit and vegetables is one of the best ways to boost your immune system because of all of the vitamins and minerals they contain, including Vitamin C, Calcium, Vitamin B, and Vitamin D. (It's always a good idea to consider consulting your doctor nutritionist before making significant changes to your diet.)

Don't Write-Off the Importance of Sleep

A psychiatrist and sleep researcher at UCLA found that if the amount of sleep you're logging decrease by 40 percent or more (for instance, you sleep 4 hours instead of the usual 7), the effectiveness of your immune system to operate at full strength, you'll need to sleep a straight 8, the amount shown to produce the highest levels of "natural killer cells," which attack viruses.

Commit to a Sleep Schedule

We always hear about how important it is to our health to get a full 8 hours of sleep at night. In a study at Carnegie Mellon, researchers found that the people who received less than 7 hours of sleep each night were nearly three times more likely to catch a cold than those who received at least 8 hours. Most people who have had a rough night feel it the next day, I know I do! The next day is especially rough for me if my kid is the reason I didn't sleep well because that means I only got 2-3 consecutive hours of sleep before I was awakened with "Mommayyyyyyy!"

However, the amount of time is not the only important part. According to W. Christopher Winter, MD, a board-certified sleep medicine specialist, "During the cold and flu season, make sure you're not only getting enough sleep but that you're really sticking to your schedule."

Now, as a parent, that's easier said than done! But it's worth a try. Just like your kids have a bedtime, now so do you!

Stop the Spread of Germs

Watch Where You Sneeze

Keeping your hands clean is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid spreading germs around. Always, wash your hands after sneezing, coughing and using the restroom. In addition, cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing, but avoid coughing or sneezing into your hand (germs can spread quickly this way). Instead, cough or sneeze into your arm, firmly pressing your nose and mouth against your sleeve.

Keep the House Clean

What does "clean" mean? I remember my first argument with my roommate in college (and my best friend still today.) We rented a two bedroom apartment and we split the chores, which was fare, but then we discovered we had two completely different opinions on what "clean" meant.

On one end of the spectrum, there was me, and some would call me a slob, I liked to think of myself as a "Free Spirit," but my position on the matter was as long as all the "stuff" was put away, the house was now clean. My friend was on the other end of the spectrum, her position was that every square inch of the house was to be touched by some form of chemical, otherwise it was still dirty! (I'm talking even powder sprinkled on the carpet before vacuuming.)

That was many years ago, and we are both grown up now with our own homes and harboring very active contaminators (our kids!). A few tips to minimize the spread of germs and to keeping the house clean include: clean often using microfiber cloths for dusting, HEPA vacuums, and environmentally responsible house cleaning chemicals. Focus on the most commonly used rooms, such as the kitchen, family room, bathrooms, and bedrooms.

Hate to clean? (Who doesn't!)

Consider hiring a house cleaning company for bi-weekly service. It'll save you a lot of time and stress, and if it helps prevent you from getting sick and having to call out of work, that’s a bonus! When hiring a house cleaning company, make sure they use Green Seal Certified® house cleaning products, so you know they are safe for your family, your home, and the environment.

Exercise for Immunity

A jog around the block a few times a week not only can do wonders for your physique - it also might prevent you from getting sick. Exercising strengthens your heart and strengthens your immune system. One study found that postmenopausal women who exercised for a year had one-third the colds of women who didn't work out.

Girl's Night Out! (Apparently, it's just what the doctor ordered)

As if we needed any additional excuses to take a break from being a busy mom and wife and hang out with our best friends for a little while, but apparently it's just the boost your immune system may need to keep you from getting sick!

According to Dave Rakel, MD, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin, "Having someone you can turn to when things are not so good - that's good for your immune system."

Sometimes it’s just the thing you need, to talk out your stresses to your friends, relax and laugh. It’s a good approach to help reset your go-go-go button. (Everyone has one of those, right? It’s not just me?)

Gargle Your Way To Healthy

No matter how hard you try to avoid people with flu or cold-like symptoms, it's rarely completely avoidable despite all your hand washing rituals. But interesting enough, when a virus invades, it has to fight its way through the mucus in your throat before attacking your cells, which is why you don't get sick immediately after exposure, according to Dr. Greger, a public health expert and founder of

As a result, even if you've been exposed you can simply gargle water, which picks up that layer of mucus that the virus is in and when you spit it out, it takes the virus with it. In a Japanese study, people who swooshed water in their throats three times a day were 35% less likely to catch a cold than non-garglers.

Note: Dr. Greger recommends that you stick to tap water when gargling, the small amount of chlorine may enhance the germ-fighting effect.

Find Your Inner Peace

Again, easier said than done! But this one really hits home for me. I am notorious for over-committing myself and not saying "no" as often as I should. And though my intentions are good, something inevitably comes up that requires more time than I had expected, or one commitment interferes with another, and all of a sudden I find myself completely maxed out and my state of mind goes into a constant stress mode, and this stress mode doesn't end until the multitude of projects I've committed to having ended. And then, I do it all over again.

Not only is my stress mode my least favorite mode to be in, and I think my family would agree with me on this, but it also makes others not really want to be around me.

But, regardless of whether you are an over-committer like me, or you’re one who has mastered the power of saying "no," life is still stressful. It just is, and that will never change. BUT, how you respond to it is up to you.

A 2012 study published by the National Academy of Science suggests that finding an effective way to regulate personal stress, such as practicing yoga or meditation, may go a long way toward better overall health.

One reason for finding your inner peace will help you stay healthy is because of the hormone Cortisol. Cortisol is what helps the body fight inflammation and disease. However, the constant release of the hormone in people who are chronically stressed lessens its overall effectiveness. As a result, you can experience increased inflammation, disease, and decreased immunity.

So figure out what you need to do to find your inner peace. Even if it's just 5-10 minutes a day, allow yourself some peaceful quiet time to just sit and meditate (and try not to fall asleep), or pop in a yoga video and light some candles, and see what a difference it can make.

Learn more about mental health and wellness in our other blog post: Plan For a Mentally Healthier You

Try these natural ways to stay healthy during cold and flu season, and use your vacation days for an actual vacation!