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Cold and Flu Center

Nutrition, Fitness and Lifestyle Choices for Cold and Flu

author image Nancy Baxi, M.D.
Dr. Nancy Baxi is a board-certified internal medicine physician with 19 years of experience. She is currently a primary care physician at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and an assistant professor of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University and has been an assistant professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine and the Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University. Dr. Baxi has been a key clinical educator of medical residents and students. She has a passion for sharing medical knowledge and teaching her patients to empower them, and she has won teaching and patient care awards for her work.
Nutrition, Fitness and Lifestyle Choices for Cold and Flu
Photo Credit: Getty Images

It is common knowledge that taking good care of oneself can help prevent a lot of illnesses as well as decrease the severity of illness in the body. This is no different for colds and the flu. Healthy lifestyle choices include proper nutrition, rest and minimizing stress. These healthy habits help ensure that one’s immune system is in the best shape it can be. Also, if you get a cold or the flu, it is important that you accept your sickness and rest. Some would say it’s a sign that the body needs to rest and get equilibrated. In addition, there are a few other things that are easy enough to do to help combat the common cold and flu.

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Hand-washing is the most helpful thing shown to prevent catching a cold. The hands should be washed in warm, soapy water. There is no need for antibacterial soaps (which themselves can lead to other problems). Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also acceptable.

Objects and surfaces like counters, toys and doorknobs should be cleaned with a disinfectant, such as Lysol. To help prevent transmission, it is important to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing and then wash your hands immediately.

Sinus rinses and humidified air may help prevent dry nasal passages that can lead to micro cracks, making it easier for viruses to infect. Also, sinus rinses may “rinse” out viruses to some degree. Controlling allergy symptoms means less congestion, which means if one does catch a cold, it has less chance of lingering in the sinuses or developing into a bacterial sinus infection, or even a bad viral sinus infection.

Exercise and Nutrition

In general, exercise is a good thing to keep your immune system strong and help prevent illness. Studies show that moderate exercise decreases the risk of contracting cold or flu viruses, however, heavy physical exercise can actually increase your chances. More studies are needed to be conclusive.

Studies show that chicken soup may help in fighting a cold since it has a positive affect on white blood cells (neutrophils). Drinking orange juice may also be helpful due to its high content of vitamin C, which has been shown to cause a small (8 percent) decrease in the duration of colds.

Some vitamins may be helpful in preventing one from getting a cold or the flu. Human cells rely on many types of vitamins and minerals to help them function well, so it stands to reason that a healthy diet would boost the immune system.

Sleep, Stress and Smoking

Sleep is important in the regulation of the immune function. It is the time when the body repairs itself. Lack of sleep can increase the susceptibility to colds likely due to a weakened immune system.

Stress reduction is very important. Increased stress means increased cortisol, which can impair immune function, among many other things. Research has shown that psychological stress is associated with an increased risk of acute infectious respiratory illness.

Smoking is bad for health for many, many reasons. One of those is that smokers get more respiratory tract infections (upper and lower). Cigarette smoke inhibits our natural mucus-clearing system as well as affects the immune system and many types of infection-fighting cells. Cigarette smoke also makes the virus and bacteria causing the illness to be more virulent.

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