While cold weather has it charms – pretty white snow (for some of us), excuse to drink lots of hot chocolate, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. – with it comes some less charming side effects: colds, flus, etc. Not only is it no fun to get sick, it can be expensive. When one is not feeling well, one is often willing to spend whatever money it takes to feel better as quickly as possible, so the best medicine for you and your wallet is to avoid getting sick altogether.
When our cousin Mabel visited us this past spring, she had the misfortune to catch cold on the flight over. The first few weeks of her visit were spent buying and taking all sorts of medication for her cold. She began by spending $30 on Theraflu on her first day here. A few days later, she spent another $30 on more Theraflu, lozenges for sore throat, vitamin C and Zinc drops. After suffering cold sores for a couple of weeks, she spent another $20 on cold sore medication. And then about 3 weeks after her arrival, she gave in and went to the doctor – another $110 for the office visit and another $20 for antibiotics.
While we are very fond of our cousin, one thing that bothered Madoline and me to no end during her 3-month stay with us was her lax food safety and hygiene habits, which we believe contribute to her frequent illnesses. I’m not talking about showering and teeth brushing (though also important), but something even more basic – hand washing. (Something about which I talked a great deal in Warm Weather Food Safety Tips.)
Mabel does not have a habit of frequently washing her hands, a habit we developed in our days working food service and maintain to this day. She might take out the trash or water the yard and then come back inside and not wash her hands. She might touch the floor or play ball with the dogs and then eat without first washing her hands. Sometimes she would have a certain food for breakfast and leave what she couldn’t finish on the table, where it would sit all day until she would heat it up and finish it for dinner. (Read my Warm Weather Food Safety Tips for why this is not good practice.)
Mabel gets seriously ill several times a year; her illnesses start as colds or flus with severe sore throat, and always advance to bronchitis, at which point she must get prescriptions for antibiotics. It could be that she is just naturally susceptible to illness, but we believe her lax habits play a part.
So here I will offer a few tips for helping to stay healthy (and therefore happier) this winter. These are things I’ve learned over the years from food services experience, reading news articles online and common sense.
Tips to Prevent Getting Sick (Especially in Cold Weather)
While these habits should be observed year-round, you should be especially careful when the weather is cold and your immune system is more susceptible. Call me obsessive compulsive if you will, but I haven’t had a cold in 3 years, and you will decrease your chances of catching something if you follow some or all of these suggestions. Also, you never know what the people went before you might have touched or what germs and viruses they might be carrying and leaving in their wake.
As mentioned before, hand washing is one of the most basic ways to prevent illness through ingestion. You should always -
- Wash hands with antibacterial soap and hot water before eating or handling food.
- Wash hands after going outside, shopping and getting home.
Wash or sanitize hands after:
- Pumping gas and/or using windshield cleaners at the gas station
- Using ATM machines
- Using a public pay phone
- Handling cash
- Touching a public doorknob
- Touching a public service counter i.e. post office, library, bank, etc.
- Carry your own pen for signing credit card slips or writing checks when shopping.
- If your grocery store offers sanitizing wipes, wipe the handle and basket of your shopping cart before use.
- Carry hand sanitizer in your purse and car so you can clean your hands before eating while you’re out.
- Regularly clean the contents of your purse and wallet – wipe things like cell phones and credit cards (be careful of the magnetic strip) with rubbing alcohol and wash whatever is washable – keys, lotion bottles, makeup, etc. – with soap and warm water.
- Regularly wipe down your workspace: wipe phones, computer (keyboard, mouse, power switch), contents of your drawers with rubbing alcohol, especially if you apply lotion on your hands regularly, as the residue sticks to things and vice versa – including germs.
- If you use the library, wipe down books with rubbing alcohol before reading, especially if you like to read in bed.
Health & Nutrition
- Observe food safety guidelines.
- Take Vitamin C and Zinc to help boost your immune system during stressful times when it might be more susceptible.
- Wear a hat. Almost 50% of your body heat is lost through the head. Wearing a cap when you sleep can help you stay warm more easily.
- If you exercise, cool down properly and put on a dry sweatshirt or jacket afterwards to prevent catching a chill.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep is one of the most important elements in preventing illness.
- Don’t overtax yourself. If you’re tired, don’t push yourself. Stress is one of the main contributors to illness.
These are good habits to keep in mind and practice if you are concerned with your health. Your body may be able to resist a few viruses or illness, but it can get worn down and more susceptible over time if it must constantly work to fight them.
Bacteria and viruses can be anywhere – a pen, a doorknob, a counter, including the dreaded Staph virus. They may not be able to survive for long on a surface, but in busy times and locations, such as during the Holidays when public places are full of people, a bacterium wouldn’t have to stay in one place for very long before being picked up by a hapless person. And that hapless person could be you. A few precautions could save your health, money, and perhaps even life.