8 things you can do every day to avoid the flu

While you can't simply "boost" your immune system, here's what you can do to avoid a fever or the cough.
Woman holding teacup in bed Photo, Jovo Jovanovic/Stocksy Images.

Your immune system is exactly what it sounds like: A complex system made of cells, tissues and organs that’s resilient enough on its own. A simple supplement won't strengthen an entire immune system. Besides getting vaccinated, there’s little you can do to “boost” your immunity, but there are a few ways you can help increase your odds at avoiding the flu.

1. Throw out those tissues Viruses can live up to 24 hours, so don’t hang on to the same tissue. Also, invest in quality three-ply tissues — if it’s too thin, it will get on your hands, says Dawn Bowdish an associate professor at the McMaster Immunology Research Centre.

2. Be social A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal in November found that loneliness triggered a stress response that affected the production of white blood cells, which are essential to fighting bacteria and viruses. “The immune system is connected with the rest of our body, including the brain,” says Bowdish. “Humans are meant to be social animals. Without strong social networks, we feel lonely, which is a stressor.”

The zinc debate
Then (2013) A widely publicized analysis by the Cochrane Collaboration, a global network of health care professionals, shows taking zinc lozenges within 24 hours of first symptoms can cut the duration of the common cold
Now (2015) The organization pulls the paper from its database, citing concerns about the data and highlighting the confusion about zinc’s effectiveness. The analysis is currently under review. – Christina Vardanis

3. Keep your defences up Monitor your stress and manage other chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and COPD. It can impact the quality of your immune response.

4. Catch more zzzs Lack of sleep can affect recovery as well as your immune system. Adults should be getting seven to nine hours a day.

5. Crank the humidifier The mucous membrane in the nose contains chemicals that kill bacteria and viruses. Dry air causes breaks in the surface, creating a great entry point for viruses.


6. Hands away from face Cold and flu viruses enter through the eyes, nose and mouth. Cough and sneeze into your elbows, not hands. Touching your own face, biting your nails or even passing a pen to someone else are possible routes of infection, so wash your hands frequently, for 20 seconds each time.

7. Eating well “Be critical of any foods that promise ‘immune-boosting’ because it’s not any one food, it’s a nutritionally-balanced diet with a lot of variety,” says Andrea D’Ambrosio, a registered dietitian based in Waterloo, Ont. For starters, aim for one dark green and one orange vegetable a day. D’Ambrosio emphasizes looking to food before supplementation — with the exception of the elusive vitamin D. Researchers have found vitamin D has receptors on immune system cells and can help activate immune defenses. Bowdish says vitamin D can reduce the length of an influenza infection by one day.

8. Regular exercise Even if it’s just walking every day, exercise reduces inflammation. “Exercise has strong protective effects for virtually every chronic disease imaginable, from breast cancer to cardiovascular and lung health,” says Bowdish.


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