Ugh, ’tis the season to try to avoid colds and the flu. So, Sam and I started the Ecology Runner Fitmas Challenge (and I hope you are all following along too) and then we promptly both came down with colds.
We both missed time at work. Our workout schedule suffered. We both felt crappy. Sam especially got the worst of it. He was sick for over a week, which is super rare for him.
At this point, I’ve perfected the art of staving off and minimizing colds and flu as much as possible. After working in a school for the last several years, I’m hoping this year my immune system will get a chance to relax a little (now I work in an office with fewer people). At the first sign of a sniffle, I have a regimen I follow and it seems to knock them out quickly and fairly painlessly.
So if you’re trying to ward off a cold or flu virus, here’s what I suggest you do for an optimal immune boost to battle those bugs!
If you want your immune system to toughen up, you’re going to need to adopt “hydrate or die-drate” as your mantra. If you’re normally good at hydration (I’m sort of meh, Sam’s awesome at it) then aim to boost your hydration by about a quarter. However, if you’re bad at it (like me), then go for at least 64 oz of water a day, but aim for 80 oz.
I’ve found it helps me to drink tea too. I buy Yogi Detox Blend and Cold Season teas and try to incorporate a few extra cups of tea into my day. Then I fill up my giant water bottle and carry it everywhere. I keep it on my desk. There is one in the car. I put it next to me at night as I relax.
Make water more appealing with a splash of fresh fruit juice, citrus fruits and seltzer to help you keep everything moving through your body. Avoid too much juice, caffeine or alcohol until you’re feeling better. If you’re well hydrated your body will flush out the virus more easily and work it through your system.
When you’re sick you need sleep. Sleep is when your body heals and repairs itself. Sleep helps boost your immune system. If you’re trying to fight off illness, sleep is almost always the best solution.
Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep. Keep your room cool and use a humidifier to keep the air from getting to dry (and drying out your sinuses). Keep your bedroom dark and quiet for optimal sleep. Avoid taking electronics to bed (they emit a blue light that can disrupt sleep patterns). Prop up your pillow for optimal sinus drainage.
Finally, I find using a little lavender oil in our diffuser helps me relax. I don’t know if it’s just that I find the scent of lavender to mean “sleep” but the scent is used in homeopathy for sleep and relaxation as well. Peppermint oil is also very nice if your sinuses are clogged.
When I feel a cold or flu coming on, I start drinking Emergen-C. I regularly take B-12 and vitamin D, because they’re difficult nutrients for vegans to get enough of. Sam takes a multivitamin. When we feel a cold coming on, we’re extra diligent about taking vitamins.
I also increase my intake of probiotics either with fermented food such as miso, sauerkraut and kimchi or through drinking kombucha (my preferred way). I drink kombucha several times a week anyway, so I try to sneak in a few more if I’m feeling poorly.
Lastly, I take garlic, extra vitamin C and zinc. Now, the last time I took zinc I made the mistake of taking it on an empty stomach–do NOT do this! I ended up throwing up for the first time in years and felt terrible. Now I’m cautious with zinc but I do increase my intake a little when I’m struggling.
I’m not a big one for taking tons of medication, but when I’m coming down with a cold or flu I’ll do anything to ward it off. My doctor recommended Zicam swabs which work really well for zapping cold symptoms fast. She also recommended I take an antihistamine and Ibuprofen, which I have to admit, really help.
To ward off flu there’s something called Tamiflu which can be taken within two days of flu symptoms. It’s tricky because most of us don’t think we’re really getting the flu until it’s full-blown, and at that point there’s not much you can do about it. Still, the flu is terrible, so if you think you’re coming down with it, it’s worth a call. You can also get a flu shot to ward off the flu, which is a good idea if you work with kids, are older or have a compromised immune system.
Lastly, remember antibiotics won’t help with the cold or flu (but they WILL help with strep throat, which can have similar symptoms). It’s worth it to get checked out by a doctor if you’re coming down with anything. Then follow orders to knock out illness fast.
Move (but Not Too Much)
I know the last thing I want to do when I’m feeling poorly is exercise. I don’t feel like running or sweating or facing physical strain. However, moving a little can help you feel a little more energetic and upbeat. It also keeps things moving.
So, if you’re coming down with something, skip the gym or treadmill, but take a brisk(ish) walk. Getting outdoors, even in cold weather always seems to help me breathe better and feel more alive and alert. Don’t push yourself. Listen to your body, but remember, it doesn’t hurt to move a little.
Resume your regular workouts when you’re feeling up to it. I’m amazed at how taking a week off sets me back on running. The good news is, I always bounce back faster and after a week or two I’m on my regular pace.
Take a Break
Truth be told, the day I took off work I wasn’t super sick. I could have gone in and pushed myself. But, I knew if I did I was going to feel worse the next day. I love my job and whenever I call in I feel guilty–like I’m slacking. Yet, I remind myself that if I get sicker I’m not going to be any good at all.
At prior jobs, particularly when working at the school I saw a lot of people push themselves to come in, even when they were feeling awful. While it was positive since we were always short on substitute teachers, it always resulted in a massive illness outbreak throughout the entire staff. Believe me, I know you think you’re helping your office by going into work, but your coworkers don’t want your illness. Stay home!
We might feel bad taking a break, but our bodies really need time to heal and repair themselves. Spend a day taking it easy, catching up on Netflix and reading, or simply napping on the couch. Snuggle up and get some rest.
What’s the old saying, “starve a fever, feed a cold?” I did some research and it turns out, it’s not true: when you’re sick you should always nourish your body! Chicken soup is normally the recommendation–and truth be told, it’s really the hot broth and garlic (not the chicken) that does the trick.
Enjoy your favorite comfort food and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and nutritious meals. We’ve been enjoying overnight oatmeal every morning and it’s amazingly filling and satisfying. Make a minestrone and enjoy some garlic bread.
Clementines and oranges are in season during winter months, which is perfect because the dose of vitamin C is just what your body needs to feel better. Keep yourself nourished and full, so you can battle the virus quickly.
The other piece of good news is that colds and even the flu don’t last too long. Colds normally take about a week to kick and the flu can take a few weeks. Wash your hands, avoid crowds as much as possible and keep your body healthy and strong. Beat cold and flu season this year by knocking it out as quickly as possible.