Winter in Utah is a gorgeous sight: Snowcaps surround Utah Valley, the lakes freeze over, and skiing becomes a popular pastime activity. However, along with an increase of snow sports and the frosted scenery comes a spike in respiratory illnesses.
When the temperature in the nose reduces by 9 degrees, 50 percent of the billions of virus and bacteria-fighting cells in the nostrils are killed, making you more susceptible to catching viruses. “Cold air is associated with increased viral infection because you’ve essentially lost half of your immunity just by that small drop in temperature,” explains Dr. Benjamin Bleier, director of otolaryngology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear.
As infections and viruses are rampant, here are a few ways you can keep your immune system strong and maintain your health during the colder months.
Practice Proper Hand Hygiene
One of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of respiratory infections is to follow hand hygiene protocols.
“Germs can easily spread from person to person or from touching infected surfaces,” states Arlene Chandler, regional infection preventionist/DSD consultant for Generations Healthcare. “As a rule of caution, never touch your face with unwashed hands, touch surfaces or objects that have not been cleaned or cough or sneeze into your hands and not wash them after. Following these basic sanitation rules can help keep you and others healthy!”
Individuals should wash their hands after the following activities:
- Before and after making food
- Before and after meals
- Before and after treating a wound on yourself or another person
- After using the restroom
- After spending time outside
- After blowing your nose or coughing
- After touching animals or handling pet treats, food, or waste
- After changing diapers
- After running errands
- After shaking another person’s hands
- After touching garbage
The rule of thumb is to apply a generous amount of soap to your hands and lather for at least 20 seconds before washing it off, making sure you wash all surfaces of your hands, including the back of your hands and in between your fingers. Doing so can help you properly remove the bad germs you come in contact with.
Eat Healthy and Drink Water
Poor diet and nutrition can negatively impact your body’s immune system, making it easier to catch viruses or infections during the winter. To help maintain your health, it is recommended to eat a wholesome diet full of colorful foods. Here are a few items that can help prevent respiratory illnesses:
- Nuts and seeds
- Leafy greens
- Fish oil
When trying to avoid or combat viruses, make sure to avoid these foods:
- Processed meats
- Sugary foods and drinks
- Fried foods
- Refined flour
In addition to eating healthy food, drink lots of water! Staying hydrated helps regulate your blood pressure, keep your joints lubricated, and prevent infections. Nutrition and hydration are so important in maintaining a healthy body and fighting against viruses.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep restriction can be associated with an increase in respiratory illnesses, and in the United States, getting less than the recommended amount of sleep is common. In fact, the CDC reports that nearly one-third of Americans sleep less than seven hours each night. According to Sleep Foundation, adults between 18 and 64 should get seven to nine hours of sleep, and adults over 65 need seven to eight hours of sleep.
This winter, prioritize quality sleep. Here are a few tips to help:
- Dim the lights a few hours before going to bed to help
- Avoid screen time and blue light at least one hour prior to bedtime
- Create a relaxing environment that promotes rest (dark room, comfortable temperature, etc.)
- Follow a sleep schedule
Ensuring you receive the recommended amount of sleep will not only help you feel energized throughout the day but also help you fight off respiratory illnesses.
As you enjoy the lovely winter season in Utah, don’t forget to prioritize your health! Protect yourself from common respiratory infections by following proper hand hygiene, eating healthy, staying hydrated, and getting plenty of rest. These tips, while basic, can help you maintain your health as the outdoor temperature drops and the icky germs spread.
A version of this article was published by The Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission.