Most physicians do everything they can to fend off winter bugs and blues. After all, if we’re not healthy, we can’t be there to help keep you healthy. Over nearly three decades in medicine, I’ve picked up plenty of cold- and flu-defying tips—and they work just as well outside the hospital.
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Doctors wash their hands a lotbefore and after we see each patient. Scrubbing in for surgery, we typically wash all the way up our arms and under our nails. You don’t need to be that extreme; a 20-second session with soap and warm water should do the trick. But make sure you’re at the sink often enough. Of course, I wash before preparing food and eating, and after sneezing and using the bathroom. But I also suds up after eating and cleaning up. And I carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. (Look for a formula that’s at least 60 percent alcohol.) Keeping your hands clean helps prevent the spread of not only flu but also other germs, like those that cause stomach bugs.
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For surgeons, sleep is a responsibilityyou’ve got lives in your hands. But sleep also helps keep you healthy. One study found that people who slept six hours or less per night on average were around four times more likely to catch a cold. I follow a strict routine, going to bed and waking up at the same times every day. When your body gets used to a schedule, it will find a natural rhythm, making it easier to fall asleep. I also allow myself a nap if I need one: A 20-minute catnap helps me stay alert for the rest of the day without making it hard to doze off that night.
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One of the biggest challenges our bodies have in winter is getting enough sun exposure. When it’s cold outside, it’s easy to stay indoors all day, especially if you work long hours. But I’ve noticed that if I run short on sun, I start to feel down, so I make sure to step outside for 15 to 20 minutes every day. UV rays trigger your body to produce vitamin D; too little D has been linked to depression. Vitamin D also helps your body absorb calcium, which keeps your bones strong. On top of that, it supports your immune system and might actually lower your flu risk. I also take a vitamin D supplement of 1,000 IUs every day. If you’re worried your level could be too low, ask your doctor to do a simple blood test to check.
Doctors know the importance of fortifying their immune system. Step 1: Sign up for the flu vaccine. Many hospitals require their health workers to do so, and I get mine every year. (I make sure my family members do, too.) If you haven’t gotten yours yet, it’s not too late: Peak flu season is from December to March. Vaccination takes just a few minutes; for busy people like me, it’s a no-brainer. I also steep a cup of echinacea tea daily. Studies indicate this floral-derived brew can ward off colds or, if you do come down with one, ease your symptoms more quickly. And anytime I start to feel sick, I up my vitamin C intake to potentially shorten the sniffles. Luckily, the hospital cafeteria has an ample supply of orange juice, so I can easily get my fix.
That’s A Fact
Got type 2 diabetes? Don’t skip the flu shot. It may cut your risk of being hospitalized for stroke by 30 percent and for heart failure by 22 percent, according to a recent study.
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I spend much of the day on my feet, but if you find me in my office, there’s a good chance I’m doing yoga. It’s a great way to fit in exercise when you don’t have the chance to be physically active outdoorsI’ve become good at working out in small spaces and short windows of time. A few sun salutations will keep you limber, get your blood flowing, and re-energize you. You can also throw in a few jumping jacks or push-ups. Easy exercises like these are great if you’re home and don’t want to go outside or to the gym.
Mehmet Oz, MD, is the host of The Dr. Oz Show (weekdays; check local listings).
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