We’re going to go out on a limb here and predict that the zombie apocalypse will not happen in 2014.
This doesn’t mean, however, that hordes of shambling strangers can’t infect you and make you feel like the walking dead. After all, this is the cold and flu season. Or rather, it’s the cold, flu, strep, bronchitis, and pneumonia season. Your concern is hacking coughs, not hacking limbs. And instead of an ax and flamethrower, your defensive weapons should be the stay-well strategies on the following pages. And if you still end up getting sick?
Come on, it’s not the end of the world.
1. Take Your Fight-amins
Your vitamin D levels may run on E in winter. That matters: D can spur your body to fight off colds. In fact, taking 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 a week may cut your risk of upper respiratory infection in half, say Canadian researchers.
2. Stop Touching Yourself
Unless sterile surgical gloves are part of your winter wardrobe, keep your mitts off your mug. People who occasionally touch their eyes and nose are 41 percent more likely to develop frequent upper respiratory infections than hands-off folks, a 2013 study in the Journal of Occupational Health found. And if you think hand sanitizer is the answer, we refer you to #17.
3. Say Hello to Yogurt
Cold and flu viruses might have an Achilles’ heel: Greek yogurt. In a study published in Clinical Nutrition, people who consumed a specific strain of probiotics daily reduced their risk of catching one of these bugs by 27 percent. Aim to eat at least one serving a day of a Greek yogurt with live cultures, suggests Spencer Payne, M.D., an associate professor of rhinology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. (Here are more foods with amazing–and scientifically proven–health benefits: Check out the 50 Foods with Superpowers.)
4. Refill Your Meditation
We’d like you to contemplate perfect health. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison found that people who meditated took 76 percent fewer sick days than those who were not so zen. Meditating trains you to stay focused and calm, which helps alleviate stress that can leave you vulnerable to infection. To get started, try the brief mindfulness sessions available for free at marc.ucla.edu.
5. Nail Your Tea Shot
Skip the black coffee and brew some green tea. Its magic ingredient, a catechin called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), can damage influenza virus particles and stop them from entering your system, a German study reveals. The scientists believe this kick-ass catechin may also interfere with pneumonia-causing bacteria. Knock back as much green tea as you want, or take a daily EGCG supplement, say study authors Joerg Steinmann, M.D., and Eike Steinmann, Ph.D. Try the Now Foods 400-milligram tablets ($10, amazon.com).
6. Order a Shot
“The number one thing you can do to prevent the flu is get vaccinated,” says Bill Schaffner, M.D., a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. Even if another strain infects you, the shot may reduce symptoms.
7. Train on Time
Hit the gym before your jab. When you exercise prior to receiving a flu shot, the post-exercise inflammation boosts your body’s immune response to the virus in the vaccine, according to a study review in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. That translates to more powerful infection protection. How much sweat is enough? A British study found that people who performed 25 minutes of lifts targeting their biceps and deltoids were able to increase their immune response.
8. Start Nasal Maneuvers
Freezing your butt off? Worry more about your nose. The cilia in your nasal and sinus cavities sweep away illness-causing pathogens, but the rate at which the cilia move is affected by temperature, says James Palmer, M.D., director of the division of rhinology at the University of Pennsylvania. “When cilia are warmed up, they beat a little faster, and when it’s cold they beat more slowly. So spending a lot of time in the cold may make it easier for you to get sick.” That is, unless you breathe through a scarf.
9. Boil Over
Viruses that cause foodborne illnesses tend to loiter on produce. So to further slash your chance of sickness, try blanching your greens–kale, spinach, and chard, for example–in boiling water for two to three minutes. Then dunk them into ice water to stop the cooking. (Blanching can give your greens a different kind of flavor.) Heating to 212°F greatly reduces norovirus in spinach, a study in the Journal of Food Protection reports.
10. Refuse the Booze
UMass Medical School research suggests that one binge-drinking session triggers a flood of cytokines, proteins that can induce fever and increase inflammation. Any more than five drinks in two hours is a binge, the CDC says.
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