From supplements to nutrients, here are five easy ways you can ramp up your body's defense against catching a cold
We’d all like to avoid getting sick. Unfortunately, there are enough viruses and bacteria out there that coming down with a cold may seem inevitable. Luckily, there are a couple easy things you can do to increase your body’s natural defenses.
You don’t have to run a half-marathon to stay well. Research shows daily moderate exercise, like a brisk 40-minute walk, wards off bugs best. One study found that people who took daily walks took half as many sick days as those who didn’t exercise. If you’re looking to mix up your workout routine, you might give kickboxing a try. It’s a great way to get both cardio and strength training.
Washing your hands frequently with good old soap and warm water is still one of your best bug-fighting bets. But let’s face it: It’s not always possible. Since each and every surface you touch during cold and flu season has the potential to be infected, it doesn’t hurt to use backup protection. To minimize your risk of exposure, make a habit of squirting on an alcohol-based hand sanitizer each time you get into your car or each time you reach into your purse.
Making mental health a priority may pay off in boxes of tissues and bottles of cough syrup saved. University of Wisconsin researchers found that study subjects who participated in mindfulness meditation training for eight weeks reduced the incidence, duration, and severity of cold and flu by 35% to 60%, compared with a control group. It makes sense given the evidence that stressed-out people are more susceptible to upper respiratory infections. The subjects practiced a widespread standardized form of meditation known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, but lead author of the study, Bruce Barrett, MD, says other types of meditation and mind-body practices like yoga may be just as effective.
Some foods are simply more powerful than others. “Gram for gram, red bell peppers have two times more immune-enhancing vitamin C than an orange,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD. She recommends adding them to omelets, sandwiches, or pasta dishes. Other fab flu fighters include apples (vitamin C), garlic (phytonutrients), oysters (zinc), sweet potatoes (beta-carotene), and green tea (antioxidants).
Have Remedies Ready
Research supports taking 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day for adults (400 IU/day for kids) to help you avoid the flu and speed recovery if you do get it. Taking zinc lozenges at first sniffle—or within 24 hours of it—can shorten the duration and reduce the severity of symptoms. Or try elderberry extract. It has been used in many countries to treat colds; some evidence suggests it reduces inflammation of the mucus membranes and relieves nasal congestion. Elderberry extract stimulates the production of cytokines, or antiviral proteins.
Of course, cold-busting vitamin C is always a smart option when you get sick. It pumps up your body’s hemoglobin production, which means nutrients and body warriors like white blood cells can travel with ease to protect your body. If you’re healthy, take at least 200 mg a day. If you’re sick, up the dosage to 1,000 mg and continue throughout the duration of your cold. While vitamin C doesn’t necessarily prevent a cold, research has shown that it can shorten the duration, which means you can ditch the tissues and get back on your feet more quickly.