Most people are advised to consider getting an annual flu shot, and certain groups (such as those with compromised immune systems) are particularly encouraged to accept the vaccine. However, there are a few things you can do to dramatically reduce your chances of falling ill during flu season. If you are wary of getting a flu shot (some would say rightfully so), following these smart steps will help protect you from the latest strains of the virus.
1. Add infection-fighting foods to your diet
Some foods can cause a significant increase in immune system function. For example, ginger contains gingerols, which inhibit an enzyme commonly associated with excessive inflammation.
Meanwhile, certain oils found in garlic cannot be broken down by the digestive system, and these oils may destroy viruses or bacteria when they pass through the respiratory tract. Finally, pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of an antiviral compound called curcumin, and their high zinc concentration helps to enable useful white blood cell function.
2. Reduce your stress levels
Research on the factors that determine infection susceptibility shows a clear link between chronic stress and an increased likelihood of contracting illnesses like the flu. If you’re aware that you often feel tense or anxious, try to spend more time relaxing activities that promote self-care. For example, you might want to try setting aside an hour each day to pursue a favourite hobby, meditate, or read a novel.
3. Consume more vitamin A and vitamin D
Vitamin A and vitamin D are both vital to the maintenance of your body’s immune system and, therefore, to your ability to defend against viruses like the flu. You can get plenty of the former from cod liver oil, carrots, liver, sweet potato, and kale. Meanwhile, good dietary sources of vitamin D include fatty fish (e.g., salmon and tuna), cheese, and egg yolks.
You may also want to consider taking a multivitamin if you struggle to meet your recommended daily intake of vitamins A and D.
4. Increase your vitamin C intake
The connection between vitamin C and immune system function is still hotly debated. Still, at least some evidence supports the claim that a higher intake of vitamin C can afford some protection against infections like colds and flu cases.
As with vitamins A and D, you might choose to take a multivitamin to boost your vitamin C consumption, but there are also some excellent food sources. For example, consider looking for more recipes that use bell peppers and brussels sprouts in your diet, and drink plenty of orange juice.
5. Abandon common vices
Firstly, if you’re a smoker, you’re probably well aware of many compelling reasons to abandon your habit. However, it’s worth noting that as well as spiking your risk of cancer, heart attacks, and strokes, cigarettes inhibit your body’s ability to protect you from illness.
Meanwhile, if you’re guilty of avoiding exercise, you should also consider making a lifestyle change. In particular, undertaking regular cardiovascular exercises like running and swimming helps boost immune system function.
6. Make sure you get enough sleep
Your body’s defences depend on an adequate amount of sleep. If you stay up too late or rise too early, you will likely have higher inflammation levels and lack crucial hormones that help protect you against invading pathogens.
If you struggle with insomnia despite attempting to stick to a good sleep schedule, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss whether you might have a treatable underlying condition that influences sleep quality.
7. Reduce your sugar intake
People who eat too much-refined sugar typically have more potentially harmful bacteria in the gut. These bacteria are connected with nutrient deficiencies and higher levels of bodily inflammation. Both of these consequences make you more vulnerable to infection, so try to have fewer cookies, sugary sodas, and refined grains (such as those found in white rice and pasta).
8. Start with good hygiene
The flu virus spreads through exposure to an infected person’s bodily secretions and by inhaling infected droplets that travel through the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or spits. As such, one of the most important things you can do to avoid being infected with the flu is to regularly and thoroughly wash your hands using hot water and soap.
For example, one prominent Danish study found that a 12-week campaign that encouraged handwashing in children aged five to fourteen resulted in a reduced school absences rate. In addition to washing your hands after using the bathroom, it’s good practice to clean them whenever you come back into your home.