7 Immunity-Boosting Ways to Survive Cold and Flu Season

woman blowing her nose

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It’s that dreadful time of year: cold and flu season. Suddenly you find yourself in a sea of coughing and sneezing commuters or worse, cubicle mates who refuse to work from home. But there are a few ways to ensure you stay healthy, short of quarantining yourself from the rest of humanity. Read on to uncover seven doctor-recommended tips on how to survive the season and boost your immunity levels.

Prepare Earlier than Expected

“While the timing is unpredictable from year to year, the flu season can begin as early as October and typically peaks between December and February,” explains Dr. Keri Peterson, a New York City internist who works with ZocDoc. “The most important thing you can do to prepare is to get the flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend getting vaccinated soon after the vaccine becomes available, ideally by October, to ensure that you’re protected before the season begins.”

Load Up on Antioxidants

“According to scientific studies, when taken within one day of the first cold symptoms, zinc can reduce the severity and duration of your cold by about 24 hours,” explains Dr. Charles Passler. “However, zinc is best taken as part of your multivitamin as a daily routine. Minerals need to be kept in balance with other minerals — an imbalance can have the opposite effect on your health.”

Peterson also recommends throwing beta-carotene and vitamin C into the mix. “Taking vitamin C can help prevent colds in people who do vigorous exercise in extreme environments and shorten the duration of symptoms. High dietary intake of foods rich in beta-carotene is associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancers. Plus, everyone’s favorite fall treat (pumpkins) are packed with beta-carotene.”

Get Moving (and Stay Rested)

“Keeping your body as strong as possible is the best way to avoid the flu,” shares Dana Ryan, Ph.D., manager of sports performance and education at Herbalife. “Stay active, eat a good diet full of immune supporting fruits and vegetables and get enough sleep.” And speaking of beauty rest, don’t let your busy schedule affect how many Zs you catch.

“When you are sick, you will typically naturally want to sleep more,” explains Passler. “Sleeping is when the body engages in the majority of the healing, repair, detox and is when your immune system is most effective. If you are not sleeping well, your immune system will not have the opportunity to do its job at the optimal levels to maximize your ability to stay healthy.”

Grab a Glass (or Two)

“While I always recommend drinking a lot of water, it’s especially important during the cold and flu season,” shares Peterson. “If you start to feel symptoms, replacing fluids lost becomes even more vital. Plus, it helps to reduce your risk of infection.”

Be Proactive with Probiotics

“Some research suggests that probiotics can help promote immunity, but the strongest support is in the area of digestive health,” explains Ryan. “If your flu comes with digestive issues, probiotics may help soothe some of those problems. However, if you are pregnant or want to give them to children, check with your physician first.”

Don’t count out homeopathic remedies, either. “If you are experiencing a fever or nausea with your flu, ginger and garlic can be helpful to combat these symptoms,” adds Ryan.

Greet the Great Outdoors

Chilly temperatures may make you want to reach for a cozy blanket and the remote, but avoid the temptation. “Keep air circulating in your work and living space [to prevent the spreading of germs],” advises Passler. “Air from the outdoors needs to circulate in your work and living space to keep you healthy.”

Prevention and Care Are Key

“First, you should always cover your mouth and use a tissue or the crux of your elbow when sneezing to prevent the spread,” shares Peterson. “You should do your best to keep your distance from your loved ones and make sure you and they are washing your hands often to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with the flu, you should stay home from work or school to prevent spreading the disease to others. There are antiviral medications available to treat the flu, but they need to be taken within 48 hours of symptom onset, so it’s best to see a doctor right away if you suspect you have the flu.”