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Holiday responsibilities require a lot of energy, and coming down with a cold or the flu is the last thing most people need this time of year. The good news is there are several preventative measures people can take to ensure that gifts are the only thing they are giving—or receiving—in the weeks ahead, said Stacey Gorski, PhD, assistant professor of biology at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
“With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we come into contact with more germs, and even sugary treats, that can weaken the immune system,” said Dr. Gorski, who specializes in immunology.
Peak months for the flu are between December and February, and the highest number of flu cases recorded last year spanned across Christmas and the week after New Year’s Day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Luckily, Dr. Gorski compiled a list of health-conscious actions that could help reduce an individual’s risk of getting sick this holiday season:
- Get your flu shot: This should be at the top of everyone’s to-do list this season. Each year, the flu is responsible for an average of 30,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations in the United States.
- Keep moving: Frigid temperatures prompt visions of warm, cozy blankets next to the fireplace, but do not neglect your daily workout to hibernate. Staying active keeps your immune system in tip-top shape.
- Pump the breaks on holiday sweets: High sugar levels can suppress the function of your immune system, ultimately leaving you at a higher risk for illness. Also resist the urge to eat raw cookie dough, as it can lead to E. coli or salmonella infections. The high temperatures associated with baking are typically sufficient to kill any bacteria that might be lingering in the raw ingredients, so be sure those cookies make it to the oven.
- Catch up on sleep: The holiday season can mean late nights of shopping and wrapping presents, but make sure you get enough sleep because your sleep-wake cycle is closely related to your immune system function.
- Stay warm: As cold air enters your nose, it causes the immune system response in the nasal passages to slow. A recent study done in mice showed that just a 4-degree drop in temperature causes mice to become significantly more susceptible to rhinovirus—the virus that causes the common cold.
- Keep the humidity levels up: Colder temperatures and less humidity help viruses and bacteria spread easier among people. So if the air in your house seems dry, a humidifier can be helpful.