Along with thick soled boots and cashmere knits, one of the true harbingers of winter is the chorus of sniffles heard round the office, the classroom, and the subway platform. Every year, it seems, as soon as the freezing temperatures arrive, so, too, do a wave of cold and flu symptoms. With the latter at an all-time high in 2018, anxiety about getting sick has also reached peak levels. But is it possible to prevent getting sick in the first place? Two New York City experts on either side of the Eastern-Western medicine divide believe so: integrative wellness practitioner Oceana Baity and Dr. Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, M.D., of NYU Langone Medical Center. Below, they share seven health tips to help you enjoy the season without falling ill—or, at the very least, shorten the duration and severity of your symptoms.
Wash Your Hands
Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe’s most pressing piece of advice is one you’ve heard before, but it bears repeating: Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds or the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. “A cold is caused by certain viruses,” Okeke-Igbokwe explains. “These micro-particles are very infectious and easily transmittable from person to person.” Washing your hands frequently can do a lot to prevent the spread of infection, but if you want to take the tactic one step further, Okeke-Igbokwe says, “never be afraid to speak up and tell others to wash their hands, too! You’re protecting yourself, and you’re protecting others.”
Keep Your Touch Points Clean
Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe says that cell phones, countertops, computer keyboards, and subway polls are breeding grounds for viruses. Keep what you can clean, and avoid touching what you can’t. “Be aware of your surroundings,” she advises. If you’ve touched something that may not be sanitary, see tip number one.
Baity recommends avoiding dairy, caffeine, sugar, and processed foods once the weather cools. “They can lower your immunity,” she says. Instead, she recommends “drinking broths with cooked garlic, ginger, and easily digested vegetables, as well as room-temperature filtered water or hot tea.” Baity stays away from raw foods in fall and winter because, she says, “They’re harder to digest, taxing your energy reserves and weakening your body’s ability to ward off germs and viruses.” Okeke-Igbokwe, however, doesn’t recommend seasonal shifts: “If you maintain a healthy diet in general, you should be good to go with the nutrients you need in times of illness.”
Both health experts recommend at least seven hours of sleep every night. And if you can be in bed before midnight, all the better. When viruses are on the attack, it’s essential to give your immune system daily rest to stay strong.
Okeke-Igbokwe stresses the importance of getting exercise, even when the weather’s uninviting. “Sedentary lives are not good,” she says. “Even when it’s cold outside, you have to find ways to get exercise in.” Baity agrees that exercise is necessary for keeping the immune system firing. But, she says, don’t push it too far: “If you’re feeling run-down, opt for a restorative yoga class, meditation, or even a nap instead.”
Get Over Your Fear of Needles
Baity says that acupuncture, when received regularly, can help to fortify lungs. She also recommends cupping for the upper back to support breathing.
Essential oils, like wild orange peel, peppermint, and eucalyptus, “can keep your immunity up and your airways clear, as well as support your body’s systems to keep you healthy and strong,” Baity says. Try them inside a steam diffuser or mixed into a carrier oil such as jojoba, or sprinkle a few drops into a bath.