Each year, the typical adult can expect to contract two or three colds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Skip the annual flu vaccine and you set yourself up for a bout of that as well. But it doesn’t have to be this way! Aside from good hand washing (with soap, for at least 20 seconds), there’s a lot you can do to drastically cut your risk of getting sick. And even if you do catch a bug, you may be able to cut short the duration of your illness. Arm yourself with these tips from the experts, and make this cold and flu season your healthiest yet.
Eat yogurt for breakfast – The same live cultures that help ease digestive distress can help stave off a cold. Scientists found that people who consumed probiotics via supplements or fermented foods (think yogurt, kefir and kimchi) had 12 percent fewer upper respiratory infections.
Crack open a window – Spending the day in a stuffy room with anyone who’s under the weather raises your risk of catching a bug. Letting a little fresh air circulate keeps airborne viral particles on the move, making them harder to pick up.
Score regular sleep– Take advantage of longer nights and log enough shut-eye. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that subjects who slept for fewer than seven hours were nearly three times as susceptible to colds as people who slept for at least eight hours.
Pop zinc lozenges – Try taking them as soon as you start feeling under the weather. Zinc is a mineral essential to the cells of the immune system, and a 2013 Cochrane Library analysis of 18 trials found that ingesting it within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms reduces the duration of the illness. The study recommends a daily dose of 75 milligrams.
Load up on liquids – Fluids help thin out the mucus that your body makes when you’re sick. And when that germ-filled mucus is thinner, it’s easier to clear out of your system. Downing at least 2 liters of water or other fluids a day is recommended.
Inhale essential oils – Several times a day, add a few drops of thyme or eucalyptus oil to boiling water, then breathe in the aromatic steam. The menthol-like smell should make your airways feel as if they’re opening up. It’s thought that antimicrobial particles in these essential oils coat the mucous membrane lining the nasal cavity.
Gargle with warm salt water – Your mom was right: This really does work. Salt helps kill pathogens. What’s more, coating your throat with a salt solution (1/2 teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water) will ease inflammation and loosen mucus, which helps flush out germs.
Heat up chicken soup – This classic comfort food is a multitasker: “The steam helps open stuffed-up nasal passages, and the salty broth can soothe a sore throat. But that’s not all. Research found that chicken soup has properties that slow the movement of infection-fighting white blood cells; when they move more slowly, they spend more time in the areas of the body that need them most.
Prop yourself up – When you lie on your back, mucus collects in your sinus cavities, which can lead to secondary infections or chronic sinusitis. Instead, try resting and sleeping at a 45-degree angle. Sitting up slightly will also help blood flow away from the head, reducing inflammation of the sinuses and nose.