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Sick woman blowing her nose while on the couch
The holiday season is both the busiest time of the year and the time when people are most likely to get sick—not a great combination. There’s never a good time to get sick, but it can be especially frustrating when you are stuck in bed missing out on the fun parties and traditions that only happen once a year.
According to immunologists, there are some simple habits that go a long way into protecting yourself against illnesses—including the common cold, the flu, and COVID (yes, it’s still hanging around). There’s also one extremely common habit that greatly increases the likelihood of getting sick that they wish everyone would stop doing.
Related: Play Good Defense With These 66 Ways to Boost Your Immune System During Flu Season
The One Habit You Should Never Do if You Want To Avoid Getting Sick
If you want to avoid getting sick—even when everyone around you is coming down with something—Dr. Jenna Podjasek, MD, a board-certified immunologist, allergist and author, says that the best thing you can do is avoid touching your face. “Never touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. This is the most important thing you can do to avoid getting sick,” she says.
Dr. Podjasek explains that the reason why it’s so easy to get sick if you touch your face is because germs can enter your body through your eyes, nose and mouth. So it makes sense that touching these areas with unwashed hands is a common way to spread germs.
Dr. Martin Smith, MD, a board-certified immunologist, allergist and the founder of Untoxicated, wholeheartedly agrees, saying, “We frequently touch our eyes, nose and mouth without even realizing it. A study out of London found that if a person in a household had the COVID virus on their hands, other people in the same house were almost twice as likely to become infected with COVID.”
Dr. Podjasek explains that germs can live on surfaces for hours or even days. “When you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you can transfer the germs to your body. Once the germs are inside your body, they can multiply and cause an infection,” she says.
Other Easy Ways To Avoid Getting Sick
Besides not touching your face, both doctors say there are some other easy habits to live by that will help keep you healthy. The first one is regularly washing your hands. (You knew this one was coming, right?) Dr. Smith says it’s especially important to wash your hands after using the restroom or handling raw meat. “Eighty percent of common infections are spread by our hands,” he says. When you’re washing your hands, Dr. Podjasek says to be sure to use soap and water, spending at least 20 seconds washing them.
Both doctors also say it’s important to get enough sleep, which helps keep the immune system in top shape. “Adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep for the immune system to be able to function properly,” Dr. Smith explains. “A study has shown men who had slept only four hours a night for one week produced half the amount of flu-fighting antibodies in their blood compared with those who slept seven and a half to eight and a half hours.”
Eating nutrient-rich foods and exercising regularly both also support immunity, both doctors say. Some foods that are especially good for the immune system include citrus fruits, almonds (which are rich in vitamin E), sweet potatoes, leafy greens and bone broth. Dr. Smith adds that foods rich in zinc, like chickpeas and beans, are also great for immunity.
Also related to diet, Dr. Smith says to avoid drinking alcohol in excess, something that can especially be easy to do this festive time of year. “After you binge drink—which is consuming more than five alcoholic beverages in a short period of time—your immune system remains suppressed for 24 hours,” he says.
Scientific studies also back up the claim that exercising regularly supports health—including helping to protect against COVID-19. “It’s recommended to engage in 150 minutes of short bursts of moderate intense exercise a week—that’s less than 25 minutes a day,” Dr. Smith says. “During the COVID pandemic, it was found that people who exercised for just 21 minutes a day had a 43% lower risk of death from COVID-19 than their physically inactive peers,” he says.
Last, but certainly not least, Dr. Podjasek says that getting vaccinated for both COVID and the flu can play an important role in staying healthy. “Vaccinations are crucial as they play a vital role in preventing infectious diseases, protecting individual health and public safety by contributing to herd immunity. Herd immunity occurs when a significant portion of a population becomes immune to an infectious organism, and transmission of the virus is unlikely,” she says. That means that getting vaccinated not only protects yourself, but others too.
All of these habits are pretty simple, but they go a long way in terms of helping you stay healthy from all the sicknesses that go around this time of year. And that’s good news not only for you, but for everyone else you’re around!
Next up, find out how tattoos can impact your immune system, according to scientists.