The U.S. is in the midst of a severe flu season, and flu cases are still increasing across the country. Influenza activity often begins to increase in October and November, peaks between December and March (right now) and can last as late as May. The infection rate this season is now nearly 8 percent, which is equal to the peak of the 2009 “swine flu” pandemic.
I Can’t Afford to Be Sick!
Pandemic or not, our clients don’t stop needing us. As a lawyer and mother, I often say, “I don’t have time to be sick!” As we all know, without your health, nothing else matters: You cannot work, take care of clients, be there for your family, or manage your work and life. While many people focus on medications to get them well once they are sick, you can take preventative steps to boost your immune system and avoid getting sick in the first place. Here are five tips to help you stay healthy.
1. Get the flu shot (it’s not too late). Anne Schuchat, acting director for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says there are still months to go in this flu season, and even if you’ve had the flu this season, the vaccine can still protect you. While we know that this year’s flu shot is less effective than in prior years, the vaccine still reduces the severity of the flu if you get it. Also, each time you get the flu shot, it strengthens your immune system because your body learns how to fight the injected flu strains. It also creates a circle of health for the people around you. You are more likely to stay healthy, and thus less likely to get others sick. When lots of people in a community — or office — get the flu shot, it bolsters the overall health of everyone.
2. Take a probiotic. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of your immune tissue is located in your intestines. This is why gut health and overall health are inextricably connected. One of the best ways to boost your gut health is by balancing the bacteria in your gut by taking a probiotic. This is especially true if you have recently taken, or are currently taking, antibiotics for a bacterial infection. A probiotic builds the good bacteria in your intestines, which helps fight off the bad bacteria and boosts your immune system to fight off viruses and other pathogens. There are loads of good probiotics available. Probiotics that have been found to provide health benefits include various strains of Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus and Saccharomyces, with the following strains being the best for boosting immunity: Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus crispatus, Lactobacillus gasseri, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Bifidobacterium longum. Find a probiotic with some or all of these strains, with at least 1 billion CFUs, or colony forming units, per day, though higher amounts are even better.
3. Live an “immune-boosting” lifestyle. A healthy and strong immune system is your first line of defense. Your immune system can fight off pathogens better when it’s not fighting other assaults on your body created by an unhealthy lifestyle. Follow these strategies:
- Eat a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.
- Exercise regularly, even if it is light exercise like walking.
- Limit sugar because it is empty calories that provide no nutritional benefit to your body, yet requires your body to utilize its resources to digest and process.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and limiting sugary beverages.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, or not at all.
- Manage your stress and anxiety (try meditation).
- Don’t smoke.
4. Good sleep is one of the keys to good health. Cutting sleep short by even an hour or two a day reduces the effectiveness of your immune system by about 25 percent. To stay healthy, you must give your body time to recover and refresh. Sleep provides this opportunity. The average adult requires seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Set a bedtime schedule and try to stick to it, not altering more than one hour from your regular bedtime or awake time schedule.
5. Wash your hands, a lot. This last piece of advice is simple — and arguably most important. The flu and other illnesses spread when we touch something or get germs on our hands from microbes circulating in the air from a sick person’s cough or sneeze and then touch our nose, mouth or eyes. Washing your hands, and avoiding touching your face, are some of the most effective ways to stay well, especially during cold and flu season. The CDC recommends that you lather the palms and backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails, and scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. For moments when you can’t get to a sink, keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you, on your desk or in your car. You may also want to keep hand lotion readily accessible to combat the dry skin caused by frequent handwashing.
Take the time to practice these preventative steps and, hopefully, you won’t lose any time being sick!
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