By Lowell and Kaye Christie, F47246
Improve your chances of staying healthy this winter by following these simple suggestions.
Winter is cold and flu season, and the last thing we want in the close quarters of our motorhomes is a case of the sniffles, or worse. More than 200 cold viruses are out there, looking for a home in your body, and an average adult gets two to four colds a year. Here are 13 ways to keep from catching a cold or flu, or to avoid passing them on, whether at home or on the road.
1. Get a flu shot
Flu season starts as early as October, but January and February are often the peak months. It’s certainly not too late (and it’s a good idea) to get a flu shot, but be sure to add a September reminder to your calendar for next year. In the United States, approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized with the flu each season. Make sure you’re not one of them.
2. Wash your hands
Most cold and flu viruses are spread by direct contact. People with colds touch things “” telephones, doorknobs, computer keyboards, dishes “” items you touch without thought. One study showed that washing your hands five times a day could decrease respiratory illnesses by 45 percent. If you or others around you have cold symptoms, this is one place where it pays to be compulsive.
3. Public rest rooms
Two facts: everyone leaving a public rest room touches the door handle on the way out, and hands are the most likely way to transfer viruses. As paranoid as it may sound, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that after carefully washing your hands, you use a paper towel to turn off the water spigot, and use it again to open the rest room door.
4. Watch where you cough
Most people have been trained to cover their mouth with a hand when coughing to avoid spreading germs. Unfortunately, that puts the germs right where they are most easily spread “” on your hand. Instead, cough into a tissue and immediately throw it away. During cold season, keep boxes of tissues conveniently placed around your motorhome for your family and guests.
5. Wipe your nose — don’t blow
If you catch a cold, blowing your nose can make it last longer. According to a study done by the University of Virginia, the pressure that’s created when you blow your nose can force some of the germs back into your sinuses, which can extend the length of the cold. If you must blow your nose, do it gently.
6. Don’t touch your face
Your eyes, nose, and mouth are the main avenues where germs enter your body. The average person scratches his nose or rubs his eyes 20 to 50 times a day. It’s probably asking too much to avoid this entirely, but try to develop the habit of using your knuckles “” they are less likely to carry germs “” instead of the tips of your fingers when touching parts of your face.
7. Get some fresh air
During cold weather we’re less likely to spend time outside, whether at home or on the road. But spending all your time in a heated environment dries out your system and makes it more vulnerable to cold and flu viruses. You might also consider installing a small room humidifier for the winter months.
8. Stay physically active
Because of cold winter weather, we are much more likely to skimp on the exercise we get during the rest of the year. According to the WebMD Web site, exercise helps your immune system fight simple infections such as colds and flu. Take a walk in the middle of the day. If you are traveling and hit a long stretch of inclement weather, seek out a large mall and go window shopping.
9. Eat the right foods
Some foods have been shown to cut down the frequency of colds. For example, eating a cup of yogurt each day may reduce your chances of catching a cold by as much as 25 percent. Fruits and vegetables help to strengthen the immune system. And if you do feel a cold coming on, remember that chicken soup for a cold is not just an old wives tale “” studies have found that it really does help.
10. Don’t smoke
If you still smoke, quit. Smoking, in addition to all of the other health risks, damages the immune system. Just being around smokers (secondhand smoke) will damage the delicate hairs that line the mucous membranes in your nose and lungs. These hairs are part of the system that helps protect you from cold and flu viruses. Heavy smokers get more frequent and severe colds.
11. Keep things clean
Cold and flu germs can live for hours on many surfaces, so keeping things clean is important in preventing their spread. Use a disinfectant on counters and other cooking surfaces. Change washcloths and dish towels every few days and wash them in very hot water. Sterilize your toothbrushes in a microwave oven for 10 seconds. Just remember that winter is a time for taking extra precautions about your health.
If all this talk about colds and flu is making you nervous, relax. Those with high stress levels are more likely to catch colds. Take up some type of daily meditation. Meditation isn’t just sitting quietly. It’s an active process, but it can be as simple as relaxing in a quiet, darkened room and concentrating on a single word. Learning relaxation skills actually can strengthen the immune system.
13. Grow older and stay healthy
With so many cold viruses out there to avoid, it’s understandable that scientists have yet to conquer the common cold. But there is good news. Each time you have a cold you become immune to that particular virus. With one less virus to worry about, your chances of avoiding a cold improve. Children can suffer eight to 10 colds each year. Adults may only get two to four annually. And by the time you reach 60 years of age, you’ll probably average only one cold each year. And that leaves more time to spend in the traveling lifestyle we enjoy so much.