As we head into peak cold and flu season, you must be ready to protect yourself, your loved ones, and anyone else you come into contact with, such as work colleagues.
Worldwide, millions of people experience the familiar symptoms of cold and flu during autumn and winter.
Use our guide to avoid aches, fatigue, fever, and congestion, and be better prepared to shake off your symptoms quickly if you fall ill.
How to stay healthy this winter
There are several ways you can protect yourself this winter, including:
- Recognising that prevention is better than cure.
- Focusing on maintaining a healthy diet.
- Staying hydrated.
- Learning to recognise when you’re unwell.
- Trying to remain active.
- Having cold and flu medications on hand at home.
- Knowing what natural remedies can help you.
Let’s explore each of these in more detail.
Prevention is better than cure
If you don’t fall ill in the first place, you won’t need to deal with your symptoms!
But what does prevention look like?
1. Get vaccinated
Vaccination is your best defence against seasonal flu. While the influenza virus mutates quickly, meaning the vaccination is “only” 40% - 60% effective, getting a flu shot will also help reduce the effect of any symptoms if you do become ill.
In many countries, free flu vaccinations are available to people over a certain age or those who are clinically vulnerable. If you don’t fall into either group, you may still be able to pay for a vaccination or have vaccination coverage as part of your private health plan.
2. Wash your hands!
Ensuring your hands are clean is the most straightforward and effective way to reduce your risk of picking up colds and flu during the winter.
You won’t always be near hot water and soap when you sneeze and cough, so try to carry hand sanitiser with you at all times.
3. Avoid touching your face
The average person touches their face three or four times an hour. That number will be far higher for many of us, and we probably don’t even realise.
While keeping your hands clean can help on this front, touching our face remains the most common way viruses enter our bodies, so aim to be mindful of how often you do it.
4. Maintain a safe distance from people with cold and flu symptoms
Colds and flu are typically only contagious when someone is showing symptoms.
So it should be easy to avoid anyone who is ill - unless you live with them. World Health Organization guidance is to stay a metre away from anyone who is coughing, sneezing, or exhibiting other cold and flu symptoms.
If you work in a busy environment, speak to your employer about setting up a “cold and flu symptoms policy,” if there isn’t one already in place. For example, if you work in an office and people working from home wouldn’t cause disruption, telling people to stay home when they’re ill can significantly reduce the circulation of colds and flu and the output lost to illness.
Your diet is the foundation of your immune system. Aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet that provides all the nutrients your body needs to thrive this winter. Focus on eating whole, non-processed foods as much as possible, and speak to your doctor about whether specific supplements may boost your defences against seasonal illnesses.
There probably aren’t too many phrases doctors say more often than “plenty of fluids.”
Hydration is another essential foundation of robust health at all times; in addition to water, consider consuming herbal teas during winter to keep your throat moist. Warm drinks will also help to thin mucus. If you're well hydrated during winter, you might even pick up a cold and not realise it!
Recognise when you’re sick
Your most powerful tool against sickness is usually rest.
Rest allows your body and mind to heal and strengthens your immune system. So when you feel ill, prioritise rest.
Symptoms that could indicate you have a cold or flu and need to focus on yourself include:
- Coughing and sneezing.
- Feeling pressure in your ears or across your face.
- Loss of taste and smell.
- Muscle aches.
- Nasal congestion.
- Sore throat.
If you have a sore throat and congestion, you likely have a common cold. If you're experiencing any other symptoms, you probably have flu.
Low-intensity exercises like walking and yoga can help boost your immune system, reduce your symptoms, and speed up your recovery.
However, you should only get active if your symptoms are mild. Don't try to "power through" if you're feeling lousy; you’ll probably make yourself worse.
Be prepared with cold and flu medication
Most of us can shake off colds and flu with rest and over-the-counter medication.
Make sure you stock up on things like paracetamol, ibuprofen, and products that can help relieve nasal congestion and other symptoms. Remember to consult with your doctor if you’re already taking any prescribed medication, and always read the label to understand the recommended dosage.
Know your natural remedies
Ginger tea and hot water with honey and lemon are fantastic natural remedies that taste great and can help relieve your symptoms.
Add these to your shopping list and stay well-stocked during the winter!
Live healthier, live happier this winter
Colds and flu are so common that it’s virtually impossible to 100% avoid them, especially during the winter.
Use this guide to give yourself the best chance of avoiding severe illness and disruption to your life and enjoy a healthier, happier winter.