How to Stay Healthy This Winter

Family Running in the Snow

By:  Dr. Pamela Fergusson R.D.

Does it seem like everyone around you is coughing, sneezing or running to the washroom? It is cold and flu season again! Getting sick might mean that you miss out on playing in the snow with your kids, nights out with friends, deadlines at work or you may even miss a planned vacation. We don’t want that! There are no guarantees against colds and flu, but here are 10 top tips to boost your chances of staying well this winter:

1.       Wash your hands. Your mother was right! Washing our hands is the simplest, and one our most powerful defences against the spread of disease, and yet many of us are still not doing it. A 2014 McMaster University study found that hospital patients were washing their hands only 30% of the time after using the washroom.  Yuck!

2.       Make sure you and your family are washing hands with warm soapy water in the washroom, before handling food and after playing with pets. 

3.       Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated keeps helps to fight infection because it keeps the mucosal surfaces in our nose, throat and intestines strong. If we get dehydrated these surfaces can dry out and leave us more vulnerable to infection.  

Family Cooking

4.       Eat well. Makes sure your get your fruit, veggies and your fibre! Fruits and vegetables are full of wonderful phytonutrients and antioxidants which help us ward off infection. Fibre is essential for good gut health. Fibre contains pre-biotics which help feed our body’s healthy bacteria.  You can also boost your gut health with fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut! Make sure you buy brands with live bacteria, or make your own.

Family on Sunny Winter Day

5.       Stay active. Chronic inflammation causes disease, but acute inflammation, the kind we feel in our muscles after a good workout causes an acute inflammation response, but this is followed by our body’s own wonderful, natural immune response, flooding our bodies with anti-inflammatory agents that help us stay well.

6.       Keep your nails trim. Even if you wash your hands very well, bacteria can remain trapped under your nails. Keep nails short to help minimize this problem, and if anyone in the family chews their nails, try to help them stop. You don’t want to transfer that bacteria directly into your mouth!

7.       De-stress. Rising stress levels in our bodies cause us to over-produce cortisol. This fight or flight hormone comes in very handy in emergencies, but constantly high levels can put us at increased risk of infections, and chronic diseases too!  Take a break by listening to music, having a tickle fight with your toddler or meditating.

8.       Get enough sleep. While we sleep our bodies rest and repair, and if we don’t get enough sleep, our infections may take over. Diwakar Balachandran, MD, director of the Sleep Center at the University of Texas says that “A lot of studies show our T-cells go down if we are sleep deprived, and inflammatory cytokines go up. ... This could potentially lead to the greater risk of developing a cold or flu.” In other words, our natural defenses are decreased, and inflammation increases. Yikes! The National Sleep Foundation in the USA recommends that we aim for 7-9 hours for adults, 9-11 hours for school aged kids and 10-13 hours for preschoolers.

9.       Look after your mouth. Brushing and flossing your teeth, along with using mouthwash may help to stop infections from spreading from your mouth into the rest of your body.

10.   Drink tea. Tea is full of antioxidants, and it is a wonderful winter warmer. Try green tea for an even bigger anti-inflammatory boost.

BONUS TIP! 

Stay positive. Did you know that people with an upbeat and optimistic outlook are less prone to cold and flu? To help you stay happy in the winter, try to maintain some exposure to sunlight. Get in the habit of taking a walk outside at lunchtime to catch some winter rays.

Also, stay close to those you love; it seems that hugs can help prevent stress and infection. Isn’t that wonderful? Give your kids an extra squeeze before bed tonight to help keep everyone healthy. 

Mon and Baby

Parentwise Pamela 
Dr. Pamela Fergusson is a Registered Dietitian and registered Public Health Nutritionist with a PhD in nutrition in Toronto.