15 Ways to Keep You and Your Family Healthy This Winter
Whether you're worried about COVID-19, the common cold, or the flu, these expert-backed tips will help you build a stronger immune system and (hopefully!) stay symptom-free throughout the colder months.
Stay-Healthy Tips for Winter
This winter, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the globe, staying healthy (and keeping your immune system in tip-top shape) is of paramount importance. You're likely already doing much of what you can to keep viruses, bacteria, and infections at bay: hand-washing, physical distancing, wearing a mask, and keeping up with your healthy diet and exercise routine.
But a seasonal primer never hurt anyone, right? Here, how to stay healthy all the way through till spring.
Wear a Mask
To slow the spread of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends mask-wearing when you're out in public, at events or gatherings, or pretty much anywhere where you're going to be around others who don't live in your household. (Be sure to stay up to date on mask guidelines where you live, too!) Make sure to wear your mask over your nose and mouth and help any children 2 or older wear theirs, too.
Practice Social Distancing
No one wants to be in close quarters with someone who's sick but this year, it's particularly important to keep your distance and avoid close contact with people who are sick. That's why the CDC recommends maintaining 6 feet between yourself and those who don't live in your household (and 6 feet between you and anyone who is sick). That's about two arms'-lengths from others.
Wash Your Hands
To protect yourself and others from disease, the CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds—especially after being out in public, blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Teach your kids to do the same, suggests Maritza Baez, M.D., a family physician in Buffalo, New York. Nothing fancy is required. Simply do this: "Work up a lather and wash before eating and after you go to the bathroom," she says. Wash under your fingernails, too. That's where germs lurk.
Be a Clean Freak
The virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, can linger on surfaces. So can the flu virus. That's why it's important to clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces (things like tables, doorknobs, and countertops) every day. Most EPA-registered household disinfectants will do the trick just fine, per the CDC.
Get Your Flu Shot
It's smart for families to get annual flu shots (even smarter this year!), but they are especially important for expectant mothers and new moms, says Amy Herold, M.D., an OB-GYN in Napa, California. "They protect mom from getting the flu, and they pass [protective] antibodies to the baby.
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Antibodies are also passed through breast milk." Dr. Herold also recommends that moms and families get vaccinated for whooping cough.
Stock Up on Toothbrushes
Use a new toothbrush after you've had a cold, the flu, a mouth infection, or sore throat. Germs can hide in your toothbrush and lead to reinfection. (Yuck!)
Brighten Up Your Days
About 3 percent of Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a malady of mood swings that occurs when light diminishes in winter. To counter SAD, Jeffrey Sumber, MA, CPC, a psychotherapist practicing in Chicago, recommends vitamin D, exercise, and light therapy. Some lamps and box lights are designed to treat the disorder. Ask your doctor to recommend one if you think you have SAD. To keep your kids upbeat, help them get off the couch and outside on sunny days. About 10 to 15 minutes of play in the sun is a good mood-lifter (and source of D).
You may not feel as thirsty in cold weather, but that can up your risk for dehydration. Water helps your body keep a normal temperature, lubricate and cushion your joints, and get rid of waste, per the CDC. Without enough of it, you start dragging. Aim for about 11.5 cups of fluids a day for women and 15.5 cups a day for men.
Pamper Your Skin
Skin takes a beating in winter. To keep it healthy, dermatologist Brooke Jackson, M.D., founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology Associates in Durham, North Carolina suggests increasing the humidity in your home by adjusting the gauge on your furnace or placing a humidifier in each bedroom. Aim for a humidity level between 40 and 50 percent.
Lavishly moisturize after a brief shower (long ones dry you out more) using jarred, not pump, moisturizers. (Pump lotions contain more water.) And don't skip the sunscreen—winter sun can glare, especially off of the snow.
Fill Up on Fiber
Research suggests that the fiber in foods like oats, apples, and nuts could reduce inflammation and strengthens the immune system by increasing anti-inflammatory proteins. The suggested daily fiber intake for an adult woman is 25 grams a day. An apple with the skin on it has about 4.5 grams of fiber.
Eat More Mushrooms
"Stress can cause illness for two main reasons," explains Elizabeth R. Lombardo, Ph.D., P.T., author of A Happy You: "Our immune system does not function well when we are stressed. And we are more likely to engage in unhealthy habits such as 'Ben and Jerry's' therapy."
Relax by taking a bubble bath, doing an online yoga class, or just breathing deeply for a few minutes.
Rinse Your Nose
Although nasal irrigation sounds gross, studies have shown it to be an effective complementary therapy for allergies and sinus infections. Try rinsing with a Neti pot or a nose dropper, using a saline solution of 1 cup water, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon soda. Pour or squirt some of the mixture in one nostril, while holding the other nostril shut. Repeat on the other side and blow your now healthier nose. Older children can be taught to use a Neti pot, too, but ask your pediatrician before starting the therapy.
Just because you can't go to the gym doesn't mean you can't move. Get your workout by shoveling snow, suggests Dasha Libin Anderson, founder, and CEO of Kettlebell Kickboxing in New York: "It burns calories and activates your lower- and upper-body muscles." An hour of shoveling burns a whopping 400 calories. Or, try something like a family yoga class (on Youtube or through a program like Peloton) to get the whole family involved.