Your coworker's coughing, your best pal's a sneeze machine and your neighbor has been home with who-knows-what all week. This time of year—and especially this year (hello, H1N1)—flus, bugs and viruses are everywhere. It can seem like even the heartiest among us is waiting to catch the next sickness that's making the rounds.
My modus operandi when it comes to avoiding illness? I wash my hands whenever I get to my destination (the office, restaurant or home) and eat plenty of citrus and antioxidants in berries, oranges, salads and more. I also like to tell coworkers, "If you're sick, stay home!" and I'm not above rescheduling a meeting with an especially sneezy editor.
far, my methods are working—I caught a cold earlier this season, but it
was the first time in years. If you hate getting sick as much as I do,
try these strategies for a healthier winter.
Be a frequent hand washer
Your mitts transmit infections, particularly cold and flu, more effectively than any other part of your body, according to doctors. That's reason to hit the sink soon after you arrive at work and home, as well as after any event that involves a lot of handshaking (meetings) or high-fives (the soccer game). Keep your hands away from your face until you've gotten to a faucet—and even then, refrain from touching your mouth, eyes and nose.
Don't forget your hat!
Mom was right when she urged you to bundle up. While you can't catch a cold purely from being outside in cold weather, feeling chilly may lower your immunity, says Ronald Eccles, Ph.D., director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University in Wales. Volunteers who submerged their feet in icy water were 20 percent likelier to come down with a sore throat and runny nose than those who kept their dogs warm. If you live in a cold part of the country, buy the warmest winter coat you can find (I just got a purple puffy I'm wild about) and keep your gloves in your pocket, and hat and scarf in your sleeve, so you're ready to go on morning dog walks no matter how low the temps dip.
Carry your own pen
Signing that dinner bill or store receipt could come at a high cost if you use the provided pen—it's loaded with germs and bacteria, says Neil Schachter, M.D., professor of pulmonary medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Keep a ballpoint in your bag. Do the write thing in between signing bills, too—expressive writing may encourage the growth of white blood cells, which fight off infection, research shows.
Exercise helps your body look terrific, of course, but it can also help it work better, improving your immunity as well as your bone strength and circulation. Aim to work out for 30 minutes five times a week to feel as fantastic as you'll look. Want to shore up your immunity even further? Spring for a massage post–sweat session (as if you needed an excuse!). People who follow intense gym sessions with a rubdown restore levels of molecules in saliva that stave off germs, a study from the University of Granada in Spain finds.
Countdown to fun
Whether it's a tapas dinner with pals or some well-deserved couch time with your pal Tina Fey, anticipating an enjoyable event lowers stress hormones and enhances your immunity, according to Lee Berk, Ph.D., a professor of pathology and human anatomy at Loma Linda University in California. Put fun first on your calendar—you might see fewer colds and more smiles!
Fill your cart smart
Your prescription for health is right in the produce aisle! Blueberries, green bell peppers, kiwifruit, strawberries and tomatoes all contain vitamin C, to help bolster your immunity. And avocado and spinach are major health improvers, especially when eaten together. Turns out that the monounsaturated fats in avocado release spinach's nutrients: You'll absorb up to 15 times more beta-carotene, which can strengthen the immune system and ward off infection, by pairing the two. A spinach quesadilla with guacamole might be just what the doctor ordered!