The holiday season should be a time of celebration and family fun, but it also coincides with cold and flu season. During the days leading up to the holidays, some doctors report higher incidences of upper respiratory infections due to a combination of frequent travel, exposure to large crowds, and lack of sleep1. The bitter cold doesn’t help either if you live in an area that gets chilly during this time of year.
While it may be impossible to avoid crowds or cold weather, there are other things you can do to curb your chances of getting sick without spoiling your fun. From washing your hands often to keep active, explore the top ten ways to stay healthy during the holidays.
Preventing the Common Cold Over the Holidays
In October 2022, reports of flu and other respiratory illnesses were higher than normal across the U.S.2 with no expectation of ending anytime soon. While getting vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19 can help protect you from some strains of these illnesses, there is no vaccine for the common cold. Your best defense is in leading a healthy lifestyle and knowing what to do when you notice those first signs of illness to prevent the progression of your symptoms.
It’s just as important to protect the people around you if you do start feeling sick. Wearing a mask and staying away from others can help slow the spread, one sick person at a time.
To protect yourself from catching a cold this holiday season, follow these ten healthy habits.
1. Wash Your Hands Often & Well
Touching an infected surface and then touching your nose, eyes or mouth is one of the most common ways people catch colds. This is why most doctors wash their hands immediately once they enter a room to examine a patient. To protect yourself and others from illness, wash your hands frequently and learn how to wash them well. The CDC recommends the following five steps3: 1.)Wet your hands with warm or cool water. 2.) Lather your hands with soap, making sure to get the backs of hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. 3.) Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. 4.) Give your hands a final rinse. 5.) Dry your hands using a clean towel or by air drying them. Research shows that if you follow these steps, you’re not only less likely to get sick, but the risk of respiratory illnesses in the general population is reduced by 16–21 percent.4 And if you don’t have access to soap and water, hand sanitizer can be a helpful alternative.
2. Keep Your Dietary Habits Intact - But Let Yourself Indulge, Too!
You don’t have to skip the holiday feasts or ban desserts to stay healthy. A little indulgence is one of the best things about the season, but just be sure not to overdo it. Prioritize vegetables and fruits daily to provide your body with the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants it needs to stay healthy. Some superfoods you may want to consider for their immune-boosting properties include berries, tomatoes, broccoli, eggs, ginseng tea, and apples. When it comes to sugary treats, moderation is key. Studies show that too much sugar increases the production of inflammatory proteins in the body, which can suppress immune function.5
3. Prepare Your Food Safely: Avoid Foodborne Illness
Following a healthy diet is an effective way to boost your immune system, but it’s important that you prepare your food safely so a stomach bug doesn’t ruin your holiday season. In addition to washing your hands frequently, ensure that you wash surfaces just as frequently, especially in areas where you prepare food. Always cook foods to proper temperatures and don’t cross contaminate serving utensils and plates with those used to handle raw food. If your holiday feast produces leftovers, be sure you refrigerate them promptly so you don’t get sick later.
4. Stay Active
Regular exercise helps to transport your immune cells throughout your body, fights inflammation, and helps you maintain a healthy weight, which can all boost your immune response.6 Moderation is also helpful here. Experts say that moderate-intensity exercise best supports your immune system while high-intensity exercise can actually suppress immunity. Maybe taking a brisk walk after those big holiday meals.
5. Make Sure You Get Plenty of Sleep
According to the Mayo Clinic, people who don’t get quality sleep are more likely to become ill after being exposed to a virus.7 This is because our body releases protective cytokines we sleep to fuel our adaptive immunity and keep inflammation down. Too much inflammation in the body has been linked to increased susceptibility to illnesses/infections. Aim to get at least eight hours of sleep a night and avoid caffeine and screens before bed, which can interfere with quality sleep.
6. Take up Meditation
Sitting quietly in meditation may seem unrelated to immune health, but evidence proves the opposite. Mental health is highly integrated with physical health and stress is notorious for inducing inflammation and making you more vulnerable to illnesses.8 Meditation is a research-proven way to reduce stress and has been shown to boost immunity and help you recover faster if you do get sick.9
7. Try Homeopathic Medicine
You may wait until you’re feeling miserable before taking medication, but taking action at the first sign of symptoms can help stop colds from progressing. Homeopathic medication like Brillia Health offers a groundbreaking approach to reducing symptoms associated with colds, flus, and coughs. Unlike common over-the-counter cold/flu medications that bombard your body with harsh, synthetic chemicals, and make you feel groggy, Brillia Health targets the specific proteins in the body responsible for instigating cold and flu symptoms and halts their effects on the body. Clinical studies prove that Brillia Health products reduce both the intensity and the duration of illness by working with your immune system. The medication is proven to help you recover faster and reduce the length of time you are sick when you use it. There are two distinct formulas, which contain targeted antibodies to help you recover faster: Cold-Flu Recovery and Cough Control.
8. Bundle Up & Stay Warm
When cold air enters the nose and upper airways, your body is not as effective at fighting off viruses.10 This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever go outside because germs also live indoors and we need vitamin D from sunlight to stay healthy. Instead, wear multiple layers to keep warm and keep indoor areas ventilated to protect yourself from getting sick.
9. Stay Hydrated
Drinking water is one important way to keep your immune system strong. When you are dehydrated your body cannot properly transport nutrients to your organs, your lymph system can’t drain toxins, and your immunity plummets in response. Experts recommend drinking a minimum of half your body weight in ounces of water each day.
10. Drink Responsibly
Alcohol dehydrates the body, and now that you know how important hydration is for immunity, it makes sense why excessive alcohol use may land you sick in bed (in more ways than one). Not only does alcohol dehydrate you, it can also interfere with getting a good night’s rest, which can also hinder immunity.
The Importance of Setting Healthy Holiday Traditions
Just because your family has always gone overboard on sugary treats, late nights, and too many spiked eggnogs around the holidays, doesn’t mean you have to continue those traditions. Finding healthy replacements is easy to do and will help to keep the holidays free from coughs and colds. Try a sugar-free cookie recipe this year or a family walk around the neighborhood to take in the view of all the decorated houses. There’s even a health benefit to listening to holiday music: a study at Pennsylvania’s Wilkes University found that people who regularly listen to seasonal songs are 30 percent less likely to get sick if they encounter viruses because nostalgic music effectively lowers immunity-weakening stress hormones.11
Follow these holiday tips and hopefully the only tissue you’ll need this season is the kind you use to wrap gifts.
Find more resources on staying healthy all year long at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.