Say yes to health and no to the flu

As the winter holidays quickly approach, many of us may be thinking about what we’re thankful for and what presents top our wish lists. Perhaps you’re thankful for your family, and want an iPhone 5. It’s unlikely that many people are thankful for excessive coughing or are wishing for a generous bout of nausea.

Yet, those are both symptoms of the seasonal influenza — commonly known as the flu, which, along with extravagant holiday decorations, begins to pop up nearly everywhere each winter.

Fortunately, in addition to getting a vaccination, there are many ways to ward off the flu’s advances. Dr. Marilyn Gordon, registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist at NSU, shared some of her top tips. By adjusting some of your daily habits, you can increase your chances of having ample energy to confidently attack your final exams, instead of letting the flu attack you.

Eat the right foods.
Put down the strawberry lollipop or orange gummy bear, and pick up the real fruit. Although they aren’t guaranteed to prevent the flu, eating foods rich in vitamins — especially vitamins A, C, and E — keep the immune system strong, which is especially vital this time of year. And yes, those vitamins should come from actual food – not a bottle.

“Don’t be so reliant on ‘oh well, but I took my vitamin today’,” said Gordon. “There really isn’t research that says that that’s better than food. So we really want to do food first.”

For your daily dose of vitamin A, think orange. Carrots, dried apricots, cantaloupe, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and unsurprisingly, oranges, are all rich in it.

Guavas, kiwis, papayas, strawberries, and all types of citrus are high in vitamin C. Or if you’re more of a veggie fan, try broccoli, bell peppers, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts.

Vitamin E — which Gordon said she finds most people don’t consume nearly enough of — is prevalent in wheat germs, almonds, spinach, whole grains, and mustard greens.

For some people, the scariest part about these fresh foods may be their price tags. But Gordon said that shouldn’t be the case.

“A lot of times, people complain about the price of fruits and vegetables. But they don’t really realize what they’re paying for a burger or for a $5 cup of coffee,” she said. “You have to go ‘OK, wait a second, this doesn’t really make sense. I can afford these foods, and make them worthwhile.’”

 

Keep those hands clean.
“Probably the number one thing is to wash your hands,” Gordon advised.

Make sure to wash up not just after using the restroom, but also before, during, and after preparing food; before and after caring for someone who’s sick; before eating food; and after coughing, blowing your nose, sneezing, handling garbage, caring for a wound, or touching an animal. Though scrubbing your hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce germs, hand sanitizers can also work well. The Center for Disease Control recommends selecting an “alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.”

And keep your hands away from yourself. That it — avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

As Gordon said, “Those are some basic things, but a lot of times people forget.”

Exercise your right to … exercise.
Perhaps you’ve heard it so often before that you got a workout rolling your eyes at the above sentence, but it’s true: exercise is vital in staying healthy. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to train like an Olympic champion. Moderate amounts of aerobic exercise — such as jogging, brisk walking, cycling, dancing, and using the elliptical machine  — during the cold and flu season boost the body’s defenses against viruses and bacteria.

As for the amount of time you should devote to daily exercise, Gordon said that it will depend on your experience. “If someone is an avid exerciser, exercising on a regular basis, an hour workout to them is probably nothing. If I’m new to exercise, 20 minutes may be sufficient.”

Get your daily dose of Zs.
It may not be fun to hear, but at night, you should be closing your eyes, not opening your laptop.  Counting sheep, instead of studying your facebook wall, is yet another way to keep your immune system strong.

Gordon advised students to strive for at least eight hours of sleep per night, though the ideal amount varies person to person.

“Some people do better with nine. And if it’s an athlete, they probably do better with 10,” she said.

Of course, for many students, obtaining ample sleep may seem just as impossible as obtaining a winning lottery ticket. The key is in changing that attitude.

“I think as soon as we run around saying, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s no time!’, rather than just sitting down and getting down to work, we’re in trouble,” said Gordon.

So, to reduce your time management worries, schedule in sleep — just as you may schedule in school work or time with friends.

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