You know when you’re getting sick. It starts with a heavy, lethargic feeling and a tickle in the back of your throat. By the end of the day, your nose is congested and you’ve got a mild cough. The next morning you can barely get out of bed, and you’re just hoping you have some cold medicine somewhere in the house, along with the orange juice.
Conventional wisdom says the vitamin C in orange juice provides a boost to help us fight off colds and other illnesses, but does it really work? New research is suggesting that ascorbic acid does have a mild effect on the immune system, but not enough of one to help most people ward off or shorten an illness. If orange juice is out, what’s left? Well, there are some things that can actually help you get back on your feet as soon as possible.
Rest is your best shot at giving your immune system the chance to do its job. Stress and environmental influences can wreak havoc on your body, and you’ll probably infect other people. That’s never a good way to make friends. Study after study has shown that increased sleep not only helps your immune system, but also fosters survival rates after infection.
When you get ill, all you want to do is lie around. That is literally because your body is attempting to lower your stress levels. Stress leads to an increase in the production of the hormone cortisol, which leads to a chain reaction in your body. Cortisol is important, and we need it to live, but like most things, it’s much better in moderation. Too much cortisol does things that we don’t like, such as increasing belly fat and impairing the function of our immune system. Since this is the exact opposite of what we want when we’re sick, it’s best to avoid anything that might be stressful and just stay in bed.
Going out for a workout sounds a bit counterintuitive when you’re sick, but studies have shown that colds can be shortened with mild to moderate exercise. I don’t mean you should hit up the gym for a sweat-inducing, jelly-leg workout, but getting outside and going for a brisk walk should make your to-do list, right next to naps and hot showers.
Before you go walking, double check to see what you have. A high fever, achy muscles or an upset stomach can all be indicators of something more serious than a cold. If that’s the case, your best bet is to say in bed. However, once your cold or flu starts to subside and you’re only dealing with a head cold, it’s best to head on out. People who exercise regularly tend to have shorter, less severe illnesses, as long as they rest when they need to.
Although exercise can help to combat illness, it isn’t always in the cards. Meditation has been shown to have similar effects. In fact, these effects have been significant enough to promote studies on meditations’ relationship with more severe forms of illness, such as cancer or HIV. Since you shouldn’t exercise if you have anything worse than a cold, meditation can act as an alternative when you have a systemic illness.
It’s fairly well known that meditation can help to improve a person’s immune system. However, meditation has also been shown to actually increase the antibody response to the influenza virus. Luckily, this isn’t only seen in lifelong monks who have been doing daily meditations for years. Health benefits from meditation, including a stronger bodily response to viruses, can be seen in less than eight weeks. This seems like a good incentive for those five-minute meditation breaks at work, doesn’t it?
4. Take Your Meds
There are a plethora of over-the-counter medications you can take when you’re sick, but only a few key ingredients you should keep an eye out for. Shop for medicine based on your symptoms, and make sure to follow the directions. Too high of a dose, even of an OTC, can lead to some bad side effects.
Colds usually involve a stuffy nose, sore throat and a cough that just doesn’t give up. Colds don’t typically come with high fevers – above 101 F – but they can really knock you down and out. Keep an eye out for products that contain guaifenesin to get rid of mucus, and you can calm your cough with dextromethorphan.
When you start to progress from simple cold symptoms into flu-like territory, it’s time to step up your medicine game. Acetaminophen will help to lower your fever and ease achy muscles and joints. Pseudoephedrine helps to combat nasal congestion, and chlorpheniramine will take care of sneezing, watery eyes and a sore throat.
Children need to avoid any medicine that has a sedative effect, and many cold and flu remedies aren’t recommended for anyone under 12. If, for whatever reason, you need to avoid these products, look into less chemical options. A menthol chest rub can help clear up congestion and decrease coughing. A nasal spray or irrigator can do the same, and also decrease nasal swelling.
5. Avoid Illness
Of course, your best bet is to avoid getting sick in the first place. It’s easier in the summer, with open windows and patio dinners, but you can and should still take precautions throughout the year. The most effective is also the most basic – wash your hands. Some people use hand sanitizer instead, and while that is effective if you can’t get to a sink, the act of washing does get your hands cleaner. Remember, only start singing the ABCs once you’ve got soap on there!
The second thing you can do is keep yourself fit. It sounds cliché, but people who are already healthy will get sick less than people who aren’t. Another way to look at it is there aren’t likely to be any sick people at the gym. Being in shape also means your immune system will work better, helping to fight off viruses before you get them.
Finally, get your flu shot. Immunizations are easily the most powerful tool you have against diseases. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that they’re unsafe for the majority of the population. If you can get one, you should, since being protected will also help to protect those who can’t get immunized – often as a result of a weakened immune system in the first place•