By Jessica Melore
It’s that time of year again: we layer our clothes, dust off the snow shovels, and hope that we don’t catch that persistent cough of the person in the cubicle next to us. Winter has arrived, and with more of us staying indoors in close quarters, it increases the likelihood of contracting the cold, flu, and other viruses. As a heart transplant recipient for the past 11 years, I have a compromised immune system and have to be especially mindful of contagion. Here are a few simple tips all of us can keep in mind to stay healthy and active in the colder months:
- Wash hands frequently: We hear this all the time, but germs can lurk even in places we might not have considered: computer keyboards, menus, microwave buttons, the company water cooler handle, or those salt and pepper shakers at the diner. That’s why it’s important to wash hands or use hand sanitizers directly before you eat. Use paper towels to turn off faucets and exit bathroom doors.
- Drink plenty of water: While coffee and soda can give you a temporary energy boost, they also contribute to dehydration, which weakens your immune response. Keep a water bottle by your desk to ensure you get the right amount of fluids.
- Stay active: Even if you’re not a big fan of the treadmill, many gyms offer different forms of recreation to get your heart rate up: swimming, racquet-ball, cardio-dance classes, etc. If you’re not a gym member (like myself), there are easy ways to stay active. When it’s possible, go for a walk or take the stairs instead of the elevator, or walk up a few flights and ride the rest of the way. Park a little further away from the stores in the parking lot. Co-opt your child’s “Dance Dance Revolution” video game for 30 minutes.
- Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can also lower your immune response and make you more susceptible to catching diseases. Doctors suggest aiming for 8 hours. If you’re having trouble getting to bed, avoid stimulants like coffee or exercise at least 2 hours beforehand.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet: A key part of maintaining balance in your life is having three meals a day that incorporate at least three to five servings of fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains and lean proteins. Try to be careful of packaged and canned goods with high doses of sodium. Give yourself permission to treat yourself in moderation to satisfy cravings and avoid overindulging.
- Take care of yourself: Our lives are sometimes so hectic that we often forget our own needs because we are focused on our families and our work. But our loved ones and our jobs need us to be healthy. Take sick days when you need to—going to work when feeling ill not only could potentially exacerbate and prolong our symptoms, but it exposes others to catching them. Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to see a doctor.
- Give yourself a break: Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Allow yourself to take vacation time to recharge and resume your activities with renewed enthusiasm. Dedicate a little time for relaxation each day, whether it’s through meditation, 30 minutes with a novel before bedtime, or listening to your favorite music.