5 Things You Can Do to Keep Yourself (& Your Family) Healthy This Winter

Let's face it -- we're all swamped.  None of us have time to take days off of work, either to rest our own weary bones or to take care of a sick child.  And maybe it was just in my house, but whenever my kids were sick, it was always either a holiday or the first day of a family vacation.  Very inconvenient.  But, fevers, aches and pains, runny noses and sore throats can all be kept to a minimum by taking a few, simple preventative measures.

1.  Catch your zzz's.  Most of us don't pay enough attention to our sleep.  Adequate sleep is crazy important.  If you are getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night, you are not getting enough sleep.  And lots of people need more than 7 hours.  My body prefers 9 hours per night, but I can get by with 8.  Any less than that for more than a day or two, and I can expect a cold.

2.  Take Vitamin D.  Studies show that most of us are deficient in this essential vitamin.  But this should never be the case as it is such an easy fix.  I'm not usually in favor of just popping a pill, but this is one of the times I make an exception -- during the cold, New England winter.  If you live in a warm climate, make it a priority to get 15-20 minutes of sunblock-free  time in the sun as often as you can.  If you live in the northeast like I do, you may need to supplement in the winter months.  I take the Vitamin D/K2 drops by Thorne (Vitamin D and Vitamin K2 should always be taken together, and Thorne has them already combined in the proper ratio) and shoot for about 5,000 iu per day.

3.  Limit the sugar.  We all know that sugar isn't great for us, but it's just so darn tasty (and ubiquitous).  The snag with sugar is, it weakens our immune system so that our bodies essentially have to fight it off.  I always tell my kids that our bodies can only fight one thing at a time -- if you've just eaten a pile of cookies when a flu germ comes a-knockin', your body will be too busy fighting the sugar to get rid of it.  And sugar comes in many forms.  Refined white carbohydrates are the first thing to come to mind -- and even non-"sweet" refined carbs (Goldfish crackers, pretzels, waffles, etc.) all turn right to sugar in our bodies.

4.  Wash up!  This is especially important for kids, who are surrounded by germs at school all day.  What do they do as soon as they get home?  Eat a snack.  With their (dirty) hands.  Try to get them in the habit of washing their hands the minute they walk in the door so that their hands are clean when they grab their snacks.  Adults, of course, should also wash their hands before they eat anything, especially during cold and flu season.  Just wash with plain old soap -- not antibacterial soap or Purell -- as anything anti-bacterial will also kill off any good bacteria that happens to be hanging out on us.  And that good bacteria is what helps us fight off the bad.

5.  Eat your greens!  Green, leafy vegetables contain tons of valuable micronutrients that our immune systems need to function properly.  Everyone knows greens are healthy, but if you think of them as cold-fighting agents, it might serve as a reminder to eat a bunch every day.  All fruits and vegetables are good for you, obviously, and eating a variety of them is ideal -- but greens do pack an antioxidant punch that's helpful in keeping the immune system strong.

If it's too late and you already have a cold, try the following recipe from Chris Kresser at chriskresser.com to shorten its duration (it's spicy but if you can get it down, your immune system will thank you!):

  • Juice (or grate on a fine setting) 1–2 pounds of ginger; place juice in a jar and refrigerate
  • Place 2–4 ounces of ginger juice in a mug with the juice of one-half lemon and a large tablespoon of honey (honey is also anti-viral). Add 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and 6 ounces of hot water. 
  • Drink 2–6 cups of this a day, sipping slowly throughout the day