Colds and flu are more common in the cooler months, partly due to the fact that we spend more time indoors in close contact with others. But getting sick isn’t inevitable, in fact by practising good hygiene and taking steps to boost your immune system, you can give yourself every possible chance of staying well over winter.
- Be vigilant about hand-washing. This is the first and most important action you can take to avoid winter germs. Lather-up whenever you’ve touched something communal including door handles, handrails on public transport, shopping trolleys or baskets and the office water cooler or espresso machine.
- Develop a cleaning habit. Regularly clean surfaces including your computer keyboard, tablet, telephone handset, mobile phone and door handles to remove germs. But avoid antibacterial cleaning products, unless you have a medical reason to use them, as their overuse may be contributing to antibiotic resistance.
- Don’t share! This includes cups, plates and cutlery as well as towels and hand-towels, unless of course they are washed thoroughly between use. If you use disposable paper towels and tissues, put them in the bin immediately after use.
- Get enough sleep. Poor sleep can reduce your immunity, making it more likely that you’ll get sick. One study found that those who slept less than 7 hours per night were three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept 8 hours or more, while another found that those sleeping 6 hours or less were more than 4 times as likely to develop a cold compared to those sleeping 7 hours or more. Aim for 7-8 hours of shut-eye most nights.
- Head Vitamin D, which we get mainly from the action of sunlight on our skin, is a key nutrient for immune health. Winter, when the UV index is lower, is a great time to head out for a lunchtime walk to boost your vitamin D levels.
- Stay active. While it may be tempting to curl up in front of the heater or fire with a good book, as discussed in our article on winter exercise (page 2), regular moderate intensity exercise can help to boost your immune system, reduce your chances of getting a cold and improve your recovery time if you do get sick.
- Eat well. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is important for general health and wellbeing but there are a few nutrients that are particularly valuable when it comes to our immune system. These include vitamin C (found in citrus fruits, kiwifruit, berries, capsicum, tomato, broccoli and spinach), zinc (found in fish, seafood, lean meat & poultry, legumes, wholegrains, nuts & seeds, and dairy foods like milk, yoghurt & cheese) and vitamin A (found in yellow-orange and dark green vegetables such as carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato and spinach). Include these foods regularly in your winter meals.
What about the Flu vaccine?
Available for anyone over 6 months of age, it’s best given in early autumn, before the flu season starts. The vaccine is free if you are:
- aged 65 years and over
- of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background and aged 6 months to less than 5 years or over 15 years
- over 6 months of age with a medical condition such as severe asthma, lung disease or heart disease, low immunity or diabetes that can lead to complications from influenza.
For more information:
- Visit the Flusmart website
- Find out more about the flu vaccine at Immunise Australia or call the Immunise Australia Program Information Line on 1800 671 811.
- Cohen et al. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Jan 12;169(1):62-7. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2008.505.
- Prather et al. Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Sleep. 2015 Sep 1;38(9):1353-9. doi: 10.5665/sleep.4968.
- HealthDirect: Colds and Flu Prevention
- Australian Department of Health: Influenza Information
- Better Health Channel: Antibacterial cleaning products