12 Tips for When You’re Too Darn Busy to Get Sick
Here, the immunity-boosting tips you need to stop from getting sick this cold and flu season.
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
Wash your hands throughout the day
Touching everyday items like door handles and other surfaces can be difficult to avoid. “To help combat germs, wash hands frequently (especially after coughing or sneezing) with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds,” says Andrew Sussman, MD, president of MinuteClinic and executive vice president and associate chief medical officer of CVSHealth in Dover, Massachusetts. Always on-the-go? Try alcohol-based disinfectant wipes to combat cold and flu-causing germs, suggests Cedrek McFadden, MD, clinical assistant professor of surgery at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Greenville.
Drink plenty of water
“Drink at least one full glass of water (two is better) as soon as you wake up,” encourages Edison de Mello, MD, PhD a board-certified integrative physician in Santa Monica, CA. “This helps your body get rid of metabolic waste and will reset your system.” And be sure to sip enough throughout the day to help your mind and body better deal with the stress. Here’s why you need to drink water when you’re stressed.
Keep a glove handy
“Use a glove to open doors, touch handles and any other common surface where viruses may lurk. You don’t need to put it on, just use it,” says Matilde Parente, MD, California-based physician and author of Healing Ways: An Integrative Health Sourcebook. “Other options are clean tissues or damp paper towels you’ve just used to dry your freshly washed hands.”
Protein-pack your breakfast
“Research shows diets too low in protein can minimize the function of your immune system,” notes Dr. de Mello. Protein and carbohydrates give your body the fuel it needs to get you through the day (this includes normal daily functions, including warding off sickness). Short on inspiration? Try one of these protein-packed breakfasts.
Get a flu shot
“Getting a flu shot is the most effective way to protect yourself and your family from getting the flu,” according to Dr. Sussman. Even in the middle of winter, it’s not too late to get vaccinated; flu season typically peaks in January or February. (Not surprising given that cold weather raises your risk of getting sick.)
There’s a direct correlation between how much skin you expose and the amount of body heat you lose. (It’s called catching a chill for a reason.) Research done in mice from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America suggests that cold temperatures may depress your immunity, leaving you more vulnerable to viral infection. So do yourself a favor and prepare to get cozy—we’re talking sweaters, scarves, gloves, hats, coats, warm socks, and boots. Don’t miss the surprising reason you should wear a hat this winter.
Take your vitamins
Stock up on immune-supportive supplements. Feel a cold coming on? There’s research that suggests probiotics, zinc, and elderberry may help stave off the sniffles. Too late and already caught a cold? Read up on the 11 things you can do to make a cold less miserable.
Eat nutrient-rich, whole foods
Your body needs fuel to keep its immune system functioning at optimal levels. Make sure you’re eating three well-balanced meals a day packed with lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables according to the University of Washington. Also spice up your diet with ginger, clove, turmeric, cinnamon, oregano, and garlic. These contain high amounts of phytochemicals and antioxidants that may increase immune cell function and help protect cells against stress or damage.
No, we’re not suggesting you up and start training for a marathon or take up CrossFit, but moderate exercise is a must. Aim for 20 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. Researchers at the University of California-San Diego of Medicine found that as little as 20 minutes of moderate exercise can have anti-inflammatory effects that boost your immune system.
Take care of your gut
Get your daily dose of fermented veggies, kefir, and probiotic-rich foods. “By maintaining a healthy balance of gut flora, you will be able to fight infections more efficiently. Remember that over 75 percent of your immune system’s vital processes occur in your gut. So make it strong,” urges Dr. de Mello. Here are the top 13 probiotic foods.
Encourage co-workers to stay home if they’re sick
A recent CVS Pharmacy consumer flu survey found that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of employed Americans would still go to work even if they were feeling ill with flu-like symptoms. “It’s important to understand the preliminary symptoms of the flu, and if you see your co-workers around you experiencing them, encourage them to stay home to prevent spreading germs around the office,” says Dr. Sussman. And if you are in a position to do so, try to make sure your employees are encouraged to stay home if they aren’t feeling well, and that they are still paid if they need to miss work for illness. (Here are some tips for how to call in sick.)
Catch more sleep
You already know this, but it bears repeating: Sleep is super important. Aim for a minimum of seven hours per night. Insufficient sleep compromises your immune system, mood, and concentration. A study led by researchers at the University of California San Francisco found that people who slept more than seven hours a night were less likely to catch a cold than those who slept less than six hours. Struggling to get the sleep you need? Find out the 10 ways to naturally reset your sleep cycle.
“If you’re feeling under the weather, take a step back. Don’t push yourself further than your body allows you,” says Dr. de Mello. A step beyond that, be conscious of how you feel mentally and emotionally. Are you putting undue stress on yourself? Try these strategies for shutting down stress ASAP.
- Andrew Sussman, MD, president of MinuteClinic and executive vice president and associate chief medical officer of CVSHealth in Dover, MA.
- Cedrek McFadden, MD, clinical assistant professor of surgery at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Greenville.
- Edison de Mello, MD, PhD, a board-certified integrative physician in Santa Monica, CA.
- Matilde Parente, MD, California-based physician and author of Healing Ways: An Integrative Health Sourcebook.
- Vish Banthia, MD, a board-certified physician and CEO of ZendyHealth.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America: "Temperature-dependent innate defense against the common cold virus limits viral replication at warm temperature in mouse airway cells."
- Sleep: “Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold.”
- CVS Health: “CVS Health Survey Reveals Two in Five Americans Make Multiple Trips to Get Entire Household Vaccinated against the Flu.”
- University of Washington: "Foods to Help Fight the Flu"