We all know that airplanes are filthy. Train stations are thick with coughs and sneezes, and bus terminals are cesspools of germs. So how does a holiday traveler get to where they’re going without contracting the flu?
I tell my patients that unless they plan on spending the month of December cocooned in bubble wrap, they’re going to have to think strategically to stay healthy during the holidays.
The first step to maintaining your health is to relax. Worrying stresses your immune system, and the last thing you want is to weaken your body’s own disease-fighting abilities when you’re breathing re-circulated air. Solid rest, a healthy diet and ample hydration go a long way toward boosting your immune system – which is your first line of defense against every drippy-nosed stranger you meet on your journey.
The flu vaccine is also a critical weapon. The influenza virus is responsible for an average 23,600 deaths a year, and despite the myths and misinformation, the flu vaccine does not cause the flu. On the contrary, it helps the body fight off the disease, reduce its severity and limit its duration. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to jump-start your immune system into making the antibodies that offer protection, so don’t put it off another day.
Wash It Off
Beyond making yourself stronger, there is plenty you can do to make yourself safer. We all know that handwashing is the most effective way to reduce infection. Before and after a flight, it’s a good idea to wash your hands. Constantly slathering your hands in antibacterial hand sanitizer, however, doesn’t offer any increased protection, and the FDA has said that some of the ingredients in antibacterial products could increase the risk of drug-resistant bacteria.
Another side effect of hand sanitizer over-use is dry, cracked skin. This can be particularly dangerous, as our skin is our largest organ and our biggest barrier to infection. Any time your skin is not nourished, you put yourself at risk.
I’m all for supplements, but those high-dose vitamin C tablets you’re dropping into your water may not be doing you much good. Your body has trouble absorbing more than 200 milligrams of vitamin C at once. So skip the excess supplements and just drink a glass of OJ.
Better yet, eat healthy foods. A varied diet full of fruits and vegetables is a great way to consume the micronutrients you need to keep you healthy, including vitamins C, A, and E and zinc. When eaten rather juiced, fruits and vegetables also offer the added benefit of fiber, which slows the absorption of natural sugars. An apple a day really can keep the doctor away!
Get Your Z’s
Several studies have found that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick, and it increases your risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Of course, if you’re crossing time zones or taking red-eye flights, it could be difficult to get the shut-eye you need to shut out infection. Take a nap or go to bed a little earlier the next night to catch up. Your body needs energy to fight off anything that might be brewing, so don’t skimp on sleep.
Just make sure you don’t fall asleep on the shoulder of that runny-nosed person seated next to you on the flight!
May your holidays be filled with good health, and know that Hoag Medical Group is here to help if you need us.