The colder, shorter days of autumn and winter can make us more vulnerable to the viruses that cause colds and flu, including the rhinovirus (colds) and the influenza virus (flu). Let me help you stay well this season with some healthy lifestyle tips.
Wash your hands frequently
Viruses spread by contact. Computer keyboards, cell phones, door handles, railings, shaking hands, and even touching serving utensils at a buffet are all common ways we’re exposed to viruses. Simply using a pen at the bank or grocery store can expose you to a considerable number of germs, so at peak cold and flu season, I recommend carrying your own pen with you. Be aware of the surfaces you touch throughout the day and wash your hands often.
I don’t recommend antibacterial soaps as many contain triclosan, a chemical that can actually increase certain bacteria levels. Any conventional liquid or bar soap with warm water will do the trick. A quick rinse isn’t enough, be sure to rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds and remember to scrub under your nails. If you don’t have easy access to a washroom, hand sanitizers that use natural ingredients including essential oils or citrus seed extracts are effective. Some natural bug repellents double as excellent hand sanitizers and smell great. I recommend regular use of natural sanitizing sprays that can be used to clean your computer peripherals and other items you routinely touch. There are many recipes online for making your own natural hand sanitizer using essential oils. Some of the best to use include lavender, tea tree, clove, and peppermint oils. For best results, they are often blended with aloe vera, witch hazel, and vitamin E.
In addition to natural soaps and sanitizers, you can also make use of a UV surface sterilizer. About the size of a small cell phone, these portable scanners can help clean surfaces without the use of chemicals; simply pass the UV light over the surface you want to sterilize. They’re great for germ-covered surfaces that are hard to clean like keyboards, cell phones, remote controls, and cutting boards.
Don’t Touch Your Face
A University of California study found that most people touch their face about 16 times per hour. Simply becoming aware of this and avoiding touching your face (including your eyes, nose, and lips) can significantly reduce your exposure to viruses and lower your risk of infection.
Regular exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of colds and flu by up to 50 per cent. Even walking a little more each day can help get your heart rate up and is easy to incorporate into any daily routine. A study of over 1,000 people confirmed that just 20 minutes a day of walking for five days a week resulted in 43 per cent fewer sick days when compared to those who exercised one day a week or less. Those that did get sick had milder symptoms, with the flu or cold having a shorter duration.
Long aerobic sessions are generally not recommended, and extreme exercise can actually decrease immunity. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is not only the most efficient method of aerobic exercise; it also brings the greatest overall health benefits. HIIT consists of alternating short periods of intense exercise with periods of low or moderate intensity training. For more information, I recommend the book FastExercise by Dr. Michael Mosely which explains in detail the amazing health benefits of this time-saving exercising method.
Improve sleep and reduce stress
Sleep may be the most important aspect of a healthy lifestyle, greatly enhancing our immune system’s ability to fight infection. Most people need between seven and nine hours of sleep for sufficient production of natural killer cells, which are critical to our immune response to pathogens, including flu and cold viruses. A sleep survey published in Life Science found that those who slept five hours or less had a 28 per cent higher risk of a cold, and an 82 per cent higher risk of the flu, pneumonia, or ear infection as compared to those who got seven or eight hours. I also recommend power naps or meditation for 15-30 minutes each day, which can help recharge the immune system, especially if you work in a stressful environment.
You can enhance the benefits of sleep by choosing a mattress made of organic Dunlop latex with wool quilted under the organic cotton cover to balance body temperature and dramatically reduce pressure points that can interrupt sleep. To further improve the health benefits of sleep, consider using a mattress protector made of Celliant fibre, proven to facilitate healing by increasing blood oxygenation and circulation. Sleeping on a 5 degree incline may also have benefits for circulation, immune health, acid reflux, snoring, and back pain.
Avoiding blue light at night can also make a tremendous difference in sleep quality. For bedroom and night stand lamps I recommend using LED bulbs that remove the blue portion of the light spectrum which negatively affects the production of the sleep inducing hormone melatonin. Special orange tinted glasses are available as an alternative way to shield your eyes from blue light. There are also natural L-tryptophan supplements that work especially well when combined with the glasses or light bulbs.
A study of 294 college students presented at the 50th Scientific Assembly of the American Academy of Family Physicians found that those who regularly performed nasal irrigation had a significant reduction in colds when compared to the untreated or placebo groups. An important part of traditional yoga cleaning rituals, the process involves making a saline solution by dissolving salt in water, and using either a small teapot type device called a neti pot, or a more modern nasal irrigator like the Nasaline, which I prefer. For even better results,
I recommend combining xylitol and baking soda with the salt. Xylitol is a natural sugar derived from birch bark that helps keep bacteria from adhering to the mucous membranes of the nasal passages. Nasal rinsing can also help reduce the duration and intensity of a cold or flu if you do happen to catch one.
Caloric restriction from periods of fasting can boost the body’s immune response with a wide variety of proven health benefits; even restricting calories by 10 per cent – 30 per cent can make a big difference. To learn more about intermittent fasting, be sure to read The FastDiet from Dr. Michael Moseley.
I recommend combining intermittent fasting (I fast every Monday and Thursday) with some of the dietary supplements featured in next month’s article. In Part 2 I will outline the importance of beneficial bacteria and gastrointestinal microbiota, and how healthful food choices and dietary supplements can help reduce both the incidence and duration of colds and flu when combined with the lifestyle solutions detailed here.
Nathan Zassman is the owner and president of Aviva Natural Health Solutions.