How many times a year do you get sick? Many of us think it's normal to fight the sniffles or stay in bed slurping chicken noodle soup every time the seasons change or we get home from a long trip. But how about that coworker who never seems to call out - what's their secret?
Certainly, people who rarely get sick might just be lucky, but they also know to practice the basics - eat right, get enough sleep, stay hydrated. However, they also seem to have a few other tricks up their sleeves that may be key to never having to use those sick days at work. Read on to discover some key healthy habits we can all steal from people who never get sick.
Keep everyday items clean
Healthy people know to wash not only their hands but to also clean those random items they touch most often throughout the day. Door knobs, car keys and phones are just a few of those things you never thought to clean, but really should.
...but don't be a germaphobe
It may be possible to get sick by cleaning too much. Overuse of hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps may actually kill off the good bugs with the bad, which can be bad news for your immune system (and could theoretically lead to antibacterial resistance). Use hand sanitizers and gels when warranted (in the hospital, after getting off the subway or before eating that hot dog at the ballpark), but don't get in the habit of slathering them on multiple times a day. And remember, washing with soap and water is usually best.
Adopt a pet
There is something incredibly soothing about a sweet, furry creature who is always happy to see you and will always snuggle with you. Having a pet lowers stress levels and supports a healthy immune system - two things that can stop illness in its tracks. Take your wellness to the next level by rescuing a pup (shelter dogs make better pets, after all).
Maintain a healthy gut
People who rarely fall ill know that probiotics can help strengthen immune health. According to registered dietitian and nutritionist Amy Gorin, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area and a nutrition partner with the Juice Products Association, "probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help inhibit the growth of bacteria that can potentially be harmful to your body." She recommends getting probiotics from foods like unpasteurized sauerkraut or yogurt (try a Greek yogurt parfait), or by taking a daily probiotic supplement.
Drink plenty of water
Staying hydrated can bolster your immune system against colds and the flu. People who rarely get sick know to drink lots of fluids throughout the day (a good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water). If you're not sure you're getting enough, keep an eye out for the signs your body is dehydrated.
Stick to a bedtime
Don't skimp on sleep - one of the most effective ways to prevent sickness is simply getting your rest. A compromised immune system is just one of the things that can happen if you're sleep deprived. Recovery time from sickness can also be affected by not getting your ZZZs.
Don't bite your nails (or touch your face)
Hands have a funny habit of finding their way into our mouth and eyes, not to mention the nose. Germs can easily enter these areas through mucous membranes and grow into infection. People who are rarely sick know to keep their hands off. And if you do need to put a contact lens back in your eye or trim a wayward nose hair, simply wash your hands beforehand.
Find your zen
Healthy people know that relaxation and deep breathing are two secrets to staying well both mentally and physically. Meditation, yoga and similar practices can decrease stress in the body, which helps the body's immune function to run optimally and stave off disease.
Studies have proven that garlic can help prevent the common cold, as well as prevent Alzheimer's disease and dementia. There are so many easy ways to eat more garlic: Add it to soups and sautees, infuse it into cooking oil or brew a garlic tea if you're feeling particularly bold.
Stale indoor air and a sedentary lifestyle spent in front of the computer or TV or on a cell phone can wreak havoc on the immune system. Get outside on a regular basis to open up your sinuses, improve circulation, absorb more vitamin D and promote wellness overall. Easy ways to do this? Take a quick walk on your lunch break or plan a hike at one of the gorgeous national or state parks near you.
Taste the rainbow
Another habit of people who rarely get sick? They eat a variety of foods in all colors of the rainbow, which provide a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Don't be afraid to branch out and try something new in the produce department - there are so many fruits you've never heard of that you need to try.
Use a humidifier
Humidifiers provide soothing moisture for the tissues of the mouth, nose, throat and lungs, helping you to breathe easier. The flu virus is also more likely to thrive in a dry environment - a study published by the digital journal PLOS One found that keeping a room at high humidity can "significantly reduce the infectivity of aerosolized virus."
Your body needs proper nutrition to help it run effectively. Intermittent fasting may be all the rage, but eating regularly keeps you alert and focused and prevents energy level dips that can be caused by a drop in blood sugar. Skipping meals also affects your ability to exercise, and over time can hurt your ability to lead a healthy life. A trustworthy dietitian can help you learn about your body's hunger and fullness cues if you need a little assistance.
Self-care habits such as massage therapy can help prevent colds and the flu by relaxing the body and thus reducing stress levels. Arts and crafts, taking a warm bath and journaling are good ways to take "me time" for people who never do.
Any enjoyable activity (including those between the sheets) that provides stress relief is good for the immune system. Skin-to-skin contact floods the body with oxytocin, a neurotransmitter and hormone that reduces stress responses (like anxiety). Studies have also shown that people who regularly had sex had higher levels of infection-fighting immunoglobulin A (IgA) in their saliva than people who didn't.
Clean the kitchen carefully after cooking
There are so many other ways to get sick besides catching a cold and the flu. Food poisoning (caused by eating contaminated or expired food) can be extremely painful and knock you completely out of commission. Stay healthy while in the kitchen by using a meat thermometer, thoroughly cleaning surfaces (especially your cutting board!) after cooking, and using proper storage, reheating and defrosting techniques.
There are a lot of weird ways stress affects your body; it can literally make you feel sick! That is why it's so important to get together with friends and family often, to laugh, mellow out and unwind. Gorin, the nutritionist, recommends that you "don't leave de-stressing to chance - schedule stress-relieving activities into your calendar." From a workout class or dinner with a friend to your weekly book club, time spent having fun with those important to you is invaluable to your health.
Enjoy a glass of wine
There are so many reasons to drink a glass of wine every day (but just a glass) - one of which is that wine is full of polyphenols, which decrease inflammation and may improve immune function. A recent study showed that flavonoids (a type of polyphenol) may prevent complications of influenza infection.
Stay in touch with your doctor
Regular checkups with your doctor can not only nip any health issues in the bud, but also help you feel empowered in your own health journey. Having an open and honest relationship with a health professional encourages healthy habits that can lead to less sickness overall.
It's easy for stress to overpower the body, which is why it's important to unplug every now and then, if not daily. Knowing when to power down can mean different things to different people. Perhaps it's taking a long weekend getaway or saying no to dinner plans when you've had an overwhelming week at work (or perhaps saying yes, because you really need to vent to your friends).
Mental health plays a huge role in our physical health - the two are inextricably intertwined. Develop a positive attitude and your immune system will thank you. Positive people tend to practice healthy habits like living in the moment and seeing opportunities instead of adversity.
Get a move on
It's fairly intuitive that you feel better when you're physically active, but a solid exercise habit can actually make a difference in the number of sick days you need to take. Regular exercise boosts the immune system, and can increase the number of virus-killing cells naturally found within the body. A study in the British Journal of Medicine found that "upper respiratory tract infection is reduced in physically fit and active adults." Even a simple stroll can do wonders - in fact, there are many reasons why taking walks outside can change your life.
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