If you have school-age kids like mine, the arrival of flu season always brings a bit of a shudder. My kids hate needles like the plague (no pun intended), but we typically get flu shots just to play it safe. The Center for Disease Control recommends annual vaccinations in October or November for adults and children six months and older. For kids 2 and older, the nasal spray vaccine is an option that might prove less daunting.
Still, the vaccine is no guarantee against illness, so it’s best to put some routines into place to protect your kids — and you — since we all know moms aren’t allowed to get sick!
Here are 7 things you and your family can do to stay healthy during flu season.
1. Wash up! Clean hands may seem like common sense, but if your kids are like mine, they’re not nearly as diligent about it as they should be. My running joke is, “I have no idea where those hands have been!” On a typical school day, they come home with hands covered in layers of food, dirt, and playground grime. If kids understand washing their hands may keep them from getting sick, they’re more inclined to do it when you’re not around to remind them. I send my kids off with a pack of wet wipes for times when they can’t get to a sink. In addition, it helps to wipe down things such as computer keyboards, telephones, and even doorknobs that can harbor germs.
2. Chow down. Food alone can’t keep you from getting sick, but it can strengthen your resistance. Add natural antioxidants and immune-boosters such as lemon, garlic, and greens to the family menu. Cut out sugars, which weaken the system. Bulk up on citrus fruits and veggies (filled with vitamin E and C), whole grains such as quinoa (for B vitamins), poultry (for zinc) and orange foods such as pumpkin and butternut squash (beta-carotene and vitamin C).
3. Catch some zzzz’s. When your body is tired or stressed, you’re more likely to get sick. On a more scientific level, sleep regulates the release of cortisol, a hormone that stimulates and boosts the immune system. Getting 8 or more hours of shuteye a night may be tough for some moms, but it can make a huge difference when your body is exposed to viruses. A recent study found sleep-deprived people were almost three times as likely to catch a cold.
4. Clear your nose. It’s not the most pleasant process, but flushing nasal passages with a saltwater solution helps combat congestion and infection. One of the most popular methods is a neti pot although I use a simple bulb syringe, distilled water, salt, and baking soda. You can find recipes online, but be warned, the process takes a little getting used to. Consult your pediatrician before attempting nasal irrigation with younger kids.
5. Sweat it out. Regular workouts increase your body’s ability to fight of diseases of all kinds. Experts suggest sticking with moderate exercise, if you’re coming down with something. Anything too extreme can wipe your body out, which will do more harm than good.
6. Change the sheets. When one of my kids is showing early signs of a cold, I put fresh pillowcases on their beds. Children often cough, drool, or sniffle into their pillows at night and changing the bedding (or at least the pillows) seems to reduce their exposure to unwanted germs. My kids are also big snugglers, often hopping into each other’s beds, Fresh covers lessen the chances for sharing germs with siblings.
7. Take a power shower. The idea of jumping into an icy cold shower is about as appealing as doing taxes, but there are indications it can boost your body’s defenses. According to alternative health guru, Dr. Andrew Weil, “a study from England found that taking daily cold showers increased the numbers of disease-fighting white blood cells (compared to people who took hot showers).” Temperature fluctuations may also jump-start your immune system, so relax with a hot, steamy shower and end with a cold blast for the last minute or so.
*This post is sponsored by American Family Insurance.