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13 Tips for When You’re Too Darn Busy to Get Sick

Here, the immunity-boosting tips you need to stop from getting sick this cold and flu season.

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Wash your hands throughout the day

Touching everyday items like door handles and other surfaces can be difficult to avoid. “To help combat germs, wash hands frequently (especially after coughing or sneezing) with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds,” says Andrew Sussman, MD, president of MinuteClinic and executive vice president and associate chief medical officer of CVSHealth in Dover, Massachusetts. Always on-the-go? Try alcohol-based disinfectant wipes to combat cold and flu-causing germs, suggests Cedrek McFadden, MD, clinical assistant professor of surgery at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Greenville.

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Drink plenty of water

“Drink at least one full glass of water (two is better) as soon as you wake up,” encourages Edison de Mello, MD, PhD a board-certified integrative physician in Santa Monica, CA. “This helps your body get rid of metabolic waste and will reset your system.” And be sure to sip enough throughout the day to help your mind and body better deal with the stress. (Pregnant? Here’s how much water you should be drinking.)

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Keep a glove handy

“Use a glove to open doors, touch handles and any other common surface where viruses may lurk. You don’t need to put it on, just use it,” says Matilde Parente, MD, California-based physician and author of Healing Ways: An Integrative Health Sourcebook. “Other options are clean tissues or damp paper towels you’ve just used to dry your freshly washed hands.”

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Protein-pack your breakfast

“Research shows diets too low in protein can minimize the function of your immune system,” notes Dr. de Mello. Protein and carbohydrates give your body the fuel it needs to get you through the day (this includes normal daily functions, including warding off sickness).

Short on inspiration? Try one of these protein-packed breakfasts.

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Get a flu shot

“Getting a flu shot is the most effective way to protect yourself and your family from getting the flu,” according to Dr. Sussman. Even in the middle of winter, it’s not too late to get vaccinated; flu season typically peaks in January or February.

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Bundle up

There’s a direct correlation between how much skin you expose and the amount of body heat you lose. (It’s called catching a chill for a reason.) Research done in mice from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America suggests that cold temperatures may depress your immunity, leaving you more vulnerable to viral infection. So do yourself a favour and prepare to get cozy—we’re talking sweaters, scarves, gloves, hats, coats, warm socks, and boots.

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Take your vitamins

Stock up on immune-supportive supplements. Feel a cold coming on? There’s research that suggests probiotics, zinc, and elderberry may help stave off the sniffles.

Too late and already caught a cold? Read up on the supplements you should be taking.

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Eat nutrient-rich, whole foods

Your body needs fuel to keep its immune system functioning at optimal levels. Make sure you’re eating three well-balanced meals a day packed with lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables according to the University of Washington. Also spice up your diet with ginger, clove, turmeric, cinnamon, oregano, and garlic. These contain high amounts of phytochemicals and antioxidants that may increase immune cell function and help protect cells against stress or damage.

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Stay active

No, we’re not suggesting you up and start training for a marathon or take up CrossFit, but moderate exercise is a must. Aim for 20 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. Researchers at the University of California-San Diego of Medicine found that as little as 20 minutes of moderate exercise can have anti-inflammatory effects that boost your immune system. (Don’t miss the most convenient beauty products to stash in your gym bag.)

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Take care of your gut

Get your daily dose of fermented veggies, kefir, and probiotic-rich foods. “By maintaining a healthy balance of gut flora, you will be able to fight infections more efficiently. Remember that over 75 percent of your immune system’s vital processes occur in your gut. So make it strong,” urges Dr. de Mello.

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Encourage co-workers to stay home if they’re sick

A recent CVS Pharmacy consumer flu survey found that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of employed Americans would still go to work even if they were feeling ill with flu-like symptoms. “It’s important to understand the preliminary symptoms of the flu, and if you see your co-workers around you experiencing them, encourage them to stay home to prevent spreading germs around the office,” says Dr. Sussman. And if you are in a position to do so, try to make sure your employees are encouraged to stay home if they aren’t feeling well, and that they are still paid if they need to miss work for illness.

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Catch more sleep

You already know this, but it bears repeating: Sleep is super important. Aim for a minimum of seven hours per night. Insufficient sleep compromises your immune system, mood, and concentration. A study led by researchers at the University of California San Francisco found that people who slept more than seven hours a night were less likely to catch a cold than those who slept less than six hours.

Struggling to get the sleep you need? Check out these natural sleep remedies that actually work.

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Be mindful

“If you’re feeling under the weather, take a step back. Don’t push yourself further than your body allows you,” says Dr. de Mello. A step beyond that, be conscious of how you feel mentally and emotionally.

Medically reviewed by Michael Spertus, MD.

Next, learn how to properly use meditation to ward off stress.