As a kid, your mom probably told you to cover your mouth while coughing or sneezing. If you cover your mouth you’re less likely to spread around any germs you’re carrying. But a study published in the PNAS Journal this year suggests that breathing alone is enough to spread the influenza virus.
“People shed a lot of viruses all the time, even when they don’t cough,” Donald Milton, author of the study published in PNAS and a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, told Time. “As a result, it’s important to realise you can be infectious at any time.”
But while we can’t stop breathing, there are other ways to ensure you don’t contract the flu this winter.
1. Get your daily 5-to-9
Salads may not be appetising while you’re fighting the winter cold, but make sure to still get a good supply of vegetables daily. “If you’re low on almost any nutrient, your immune system will not function well,” says Professor Simin Nikbin Meydani, director of the Nutritional Immunology Labratory at Tufts.
She recommends you get your five to nine servings of a range of veggies, protein and fat. Adding foods with probiotics, like Greek yoghurt, is one way of boosting your immunity.
2. Keep your hands clean
Avoid spreading germs by washing your hands regularly. Colds and flu shouldn’t be the only thing you worry about. Diarrhoea is another illness that can be contracted if you don’t follow proper hygiene routines. Diarrhoea is the second leading cause of child deaths worldwide.
“In a world where disease, infections and viruses are rife, hand washing at every opportunity is vitally important,” says Sithembile Mfayela, brand manager for Cuticura. According to UNICEF, washing your hands before eating and preparing food, and after using the toilet can reduce your risk of contracting the disease by 40%.
If you have limited access to running water or live in Cape Town, switching to hand sanitiser is just as effective.
3. Sip tea
Stay warm this winter while sipping on a steaming mug of tea. It won’t just bring you comfort, but if you drink the right kind, it could help you keep the flu at bay. Quercetin, an antioxidant, can be found in green tea, black tea and oolong tea. A study published in Journal of Medicinal Food in 2013, showed that the antioxidant could prevent the common cold virus from replicating in its initial stage of infection.
Sweeten the deal even more by adding honey to your tea. Honey is known to raise levels of antioxidants in the body helping to boost the immune system.
4. Don’t overuse antibiotics
If your initial reaction to a sniffle is to kill it with antibiotics, you may want to reconsider. Pharmacist Tara Raymaakers says, “Fostering immunity means developing antibodies against pathogens, so the next time you meet a virus or bacteria its antibodies can spring into action.”
Allow the sniffle to play out to avoid getting sick again later in the season.
No-one really wants to roll out of bed early in the morning while it’s still dark to exercise. Sleeping in seems like a way more attractive idea. But continuing your exercise in winter won’t just help you fight the winter bulge – it’s also key to staying healthy during those months.
“Being physically active is the most important lifestyle predictor of taking fewer sick days in autumn and winter, the riskiest seasons for illness,” says immunology expert Dr David Nieman. His research has shown that adults who workout five days a week take 40 to 50% less sick days than those who only workout once a week.