Colds and flu

Updated 05 October 2017

7 habits to protect you against the flu

You don’t have to be obsessed with cleanliness, but there are some good habits you can adopt to help keep the flu and other illnesses at bay.

You don’t necessarily need a flu shot to protect yourself this winter. There are quick and easy steps you can take to make yourself less susceptible to illness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your body could be harbouring viruses before symptoms start to appear. You could, therefore, be contagious before you even know that you are sick.

1. Sanitise your office space

Cold and flu viruses easily spread from person to person, as well as making their way onto surfaces we regularly touch. These surfaces include doorknobs, kitchen appliances and office equipment like telephones, mice, computer keyboards and desks.

Research has shown that the average computer keyboard is five times dirtier than a toilet seat.

To ensure than your office equipment and surfaces remain clean and germ-free, Health24 suggests keeping an alcohol-based sanitiser at hand to sterilise surfaces that may harbour germs and viruses that can make you sick.

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2. Wash your hands

Research has shown that good hand hygiene and regular hand-washing may help protect you against colds and flu.

Hand-washing is the simplest way to prevent infection or illness as your hands constantly come into contact with other people and unhygienic surfaces. Those germs are quickly transferred to your mouth, eyes, and nose.

CDC advises when you should be washing your hands:

  • Before, during, and after preparing a meal
  • Before eating
  • Before and after taking care of a sick person
  • Before and after treating a cut or a wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers
  • After coughing, sneezing, and blowing your nose
  • After touching pets or other animals
  • After touching any form of garbage

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3. Clean your cellphone

You hold your cellphone against your face every day, and according to a previous Health24 review, the average cellphone has 10 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.

Germs and viruses can spread from cellphones to people's hands and faces and make them sick.

Using an antiseptic wipe to clean your phone can go a long way towards preventing you from getting ill. Just remember to throw away the wipe once you are done.

flu, colds and flu

4. Good health habits

It's better to take keep your immune system strong and stay healthy than trying to remedy the situation once you have fallen ill.

Take care of your immune system by eating fresh fruits and vegetables every day and getting plenty of rest each night.

A balanced diet is a crucial part of taking care of your health as it provides a variety of nutrients that help to keep you healthy.

Sleep deprivation may also contribute to the development of a variety of serious medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease.

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5. Make time to de-stress

Stress can increase your chances of getting sick. If you are stressed all the time, your nervous system stays aroused and keeps on releasing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which can affect your immunity. 

According to CDC, in stressful situations they body is in a constant state of alertness, increasing the rate of “wear and tear” to the biological systems. As a result, your body becomes drained and more susceptible to infectious illnesses.

flu, colds and flu

6. Exercise

Research has shown that people who exercise on a regular basis are less likely to catch a cold. Exercise strengthens the immune system and cuts your risk of catching a cold by nearly 50%.

You don’t need to belong to a gym to exercise. Walking is often underrated, and this easy form of exercise can go a long way toward keeping you healthy and able to fight off the common cold.

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7. Stay warm

Your chances of catching a cold drop when you stay warm. Research has shown that when infected cells with the cold virus were exposed to a healthy core body temperature, the virus died off more quickly and was unable to replicate itself in the body and spread.

The study found that higher body temperatures enhance an enzyme called RNASEL – which attacks and destroys viral genes. Cooler body temperatures, however, enable the cold virus to spread in airways.

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Images provided by iStock.


Ask the Expert

Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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