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The past few years have changed the way we go about protecting our health and wellness. In fact, one of the positive aspects of the COVID-19 precautions we’ve all taken has been a decrease in colds and flu over the past two years. But, with schools back in session, many of us back in the office, and more gatherings and events taking place, it's time to take cold and flu season seriously. Of course you can – and should – wear a mask to protect yourself and others from the spread of germs and viruses in crowded or closed spaces, but that's just the first step. Continue to make health and wellness a priority by following these guidelines.
Strengthen Your Immune System. A healthy immune system creates antibodies to fight infectious agents that can threaten your health. Individuals with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to infections of all kinds – and more likely to experience severe effects. No matter your age or health status, you can help strengthen your immune system and increase your chances of staying well by recommitting to healthy habits that may have fallen by the wayside in recent years:
- Eat a balanced diet. A diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and legumes while being low in sugar and processed foods isn't just heart healthy – it's also immune boosting!
- Exercise regularly. Exercise not only lowers stress (which is another immunity enhancer) but it also promotes circulation and helps immune cells and antibodies move more efficiently through your body.
- Get enough sleep. You've heard it before and you'll hear it again and again: sleep is critical for restoring your body and brain. During sleep your body releases cytokines which are responsible for regulating your immune response to inflammation and infection. Production of cytokines and other immune cells go down when you don't get enough sleep, leaving you more susceptible to infection and illness.
- Wash your hands. By now we're all used to washing our hands thoroughly – multiple times a day. Now is not the time to let up on that habit. Avoid shaking hands where possible, and immediately wash up after opening doors, using communal office equipment, taking public transportation, or being around people who are coughing or sneezing. Carry antibacterial gel for quick protection when washing your hands isn’t possible.
Get All of Your Vaccinations. We know everybody is tired of hearing about vaccines, but they remain the most effective way to protect yourself against serious infection and illness. If you haven't received the latest COVID-19 booster and you are eligible for it, make an appointment today. While you're at it, schedule your annual flu shot as well. Yes, you can get both vaccines at the same time, and no, they won't make you sick. You're likely to experience nothing more than a slightly sore arm (or arms) for a day or so, and it's the absolute easiest step you can take to stay healthy over the coming months.
Vaccines go well beyond COVID-19 and flu. Check with your doctor to see if you are up-to-date on childhood vaccinations and boosters and age-related vaccines including:
- Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. TD vaccination protects against tetanus and diphtheria, and should be given every 10 years. Tdap (or DTaP) protects against tetanus and diphtheria as well as pertussis (whooping cough). Pregnant women should get Tdap during the third trimester of every pregnancy, and adults who never received Tdap as a child should get it in place of TD immediately.
- Measles, Mumps, Rubella. If you were born between 1963 and 1967 you likely received a single dose of an inactive virus vaccine, which does not provide full immunity. The CDC recommends that all adults born after 1957 and vaccinated prior to 1968 get revaccinated with at least one dose of live MMR.
- Pneumococcal. Pneumococcal disease causes pneumonia, bloodstream infection and meningitis – and kills thousands of adults every year. There are two different vaccines – PCV13 and PPSV23 given several weeks apart. If you are over age 65 or a smoker, ask your doctor about getting these vaccines immediately.
- Shingles. Shingles and PHN – a common complication – can be very painful and even debilitating. Fortunately the newer, two-dose Shingrix vaccine is much more effective at preventing shingles than the older Zostavax. All healthy adults over the age of 50 should get the two dose Shingrix (given several months apart), even if you previously received the Zostavax vaccine.
No matter what the season or global health concern, staying healthy and well doesn’t just happen. It takes some planning and precautions, but it's well worth the effort!
This article first appeared in the September 2022 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.