Three Ways to Stay Healthy This Winter Season

ou might be seated in cramped quarters aboard an airplane, surrounded by sneezing, coughing and sniffling fellow passengers who think nothing of touching anything within their reach — purportedly contaminating everything with their germs; or you might shake hands with a person whom you are unaware is suffering from a cold or other virus. The good news is that there are three ways to stay healthy this winter season — or at any time, for that matter — and one of those ways is something which I have been espousing for years.

There are few scenarios which are more physically uncomfortable than having to travel while fighting a cold or suffering from an attack by a virus. Having to deal with the change in air pressure as the aircraft changes altitude during a flight while your sinuses are clogged can be sheer torture for some people. Needing to suddenly use the lavatory while seated in a window seat on a crowded airplane which is flying below 10,000 feet is bad enough under normal circumstances — but when the need arises as the result of an attack on you by a virus, it can feel like the closest thing to pure agony.

Fortunately, those scenarios are indeed preventable — and I am living proof of that, as I will explain later. For now, let us start with the first way to stay healthy…

Exercise

“Don’t skip the workouts, especially during cold season”, according to this article written by Meghan Holohan of TODAY. “Researchers recently examined exercise and its impact on immunity in mice. Some mice swam for 10 minutes a day, five days a week for three weeks. The others lived normal lives. The researchers gave some of the mice Staphylococcus aureus. It turns out that the exercising mice got sick less than sedentary mice. And, this effect also applies to humans.”

I do not work out for the sake of working out. Rather, I prefer exercise when it has purpose. I am thankful that I have strong legs with which I can walk great distances — and originally hailing from New York, I can walk rather fast. In fact, my gait usually outpaces other New Yorkers…

…so whenever I am at an airport and have a little time to spare — and am not carrying anything of significant weight — I do not mind at all walking to a gate at the other side of a terminal. I will even consider walking between terminals instead of using a public motorized conveyance. The same is true when parking a car: so what if I park at the other end of a parking garage? The walk invigorates me.

You too can work in some exercise as well in your travel routines. For example, climb stairs instead of using an elevator or an escalator. For me, not only do I get exercise; but I also arrive at my destination slightly more quickly.

Lifting and carrying bags can also contribute towards exercise for you. Additionally, many airlines give instructions on how to exercise while sitting in your seat — especially on long-haul flights.

If you are fortunate enough to be at Singapore Changi Airport, you can even partake in a swim in a pool.

Many hotel and properties usually offer access to a gym — sometimes for a fee — if you do enjoy exercising for the sake of working out.

Exercise boosts the production of cathelicidin, which is an antimicrobial response that protects the body from invaders. “Cathelicidin has a broad antimicrobial activity against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, as well as certain viruses and fungi”, according to this article written by Waleed M. Abuzeid, Nadeem A. Akbar and Mark A. Zacharek for Medscape. “Vitamin D treatment upregulated cathelicidin mRNA in several cell lines and primary cultures including keratinocytes, neutrophils, and macrophages. Vitamin D levels were also found to be significantly lower in patients in the intensive care unit with sepsis when compared with healthy controls.”

Speaking of Vitamin D…

Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

The days are getting longer in the Northern hemisphere; but they are still near their shortest duration at this time of year — and shorter days mean people experience less exposure to the sun, which can lead to waning levels of vitamin D and could possibly lead to a cough, a cold, or an upper respiratory infection.

“Vitamin D deficiency can be harmful”, according to this article written by Louise Chang of WebMD. “In fact, there are real benefits to increasing your Vitamin D.”

Meeting the recommended requirements for getting your daily Vitamin D is not easy, as foods are not exactly bursting with the vitamin — meaning that you might need a supplement to bolster your immune system. Still, consuming such dairy and seafood items as milk, yogurt, salmon, canned sardines, cheddar cheese and egg yolks will help.

In addition to Vitamin D, the consumption of hot liquids — especially those such as chicken soup, which contain an abundance of nutrients — as well as foods and beverages containing Vitamin C can also aid in the prevention of contracting an illness borne from a virus. My personal favorites are homemade chicken soup and either grapefruit juice or orange juice — preferable freshly squeezed.

I do not believe in taking dietary supplements or any forms of medication unless absolutely necessary. I have not been sick in years; so I must be doing something right — which leads to what I believe is the most important defense against illness…

Wash Your Hands

The cold virus lives in the nose — yet throughout the day, people mindlessly touch their faces. Every time you touch your nose, you are moving virus to your hands — which is how approximately a third of people end up with a cold virus on their hands.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, washing hands with soap and water is the most effective method of reducing the number of germs on them — and yet, a study released by The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University reveals that most Americans do not wash their hands properly.

Unfortunately, this is not solely an American phenomenon. While seated on a Boeing 777 aircraft which operated as British Airways flight 154 from Cairo to London last year, FlyerTalk member Phil the Flyer estimated that up to 80 percent of the occupants of a nearby lavatory opened the door to exit that lavatory immediately after flushing the toilet — suggesting that those passengers did not wash their hands.

The statistic is actually worse, according to the aforementioned study, which suggests that as many as 94.7 percent of the 3,739 people who participated in the study either did not properly wash their hands — meaning they washed for six or fewer seconds — or did not wash their hands at all.

Here is a video clip from the TODAY show on NBC pertaining to the findings of the study:

Fortunately, the sanitary habits of other people — if they even practice sanitary habits — have much less of a chance to affect you or matter to you if you take the proper precautions, which are rather simple to follow and can easily develop into a habit, as they have for me. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the recommendations for properly washing your hands — and when to do so:

Here is another video from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pertaining to washing your hands and why it is so important, suggesting that researchers in London estimate that if everyone routinely washed their hands, a million deaths per year could be prevented:

When should you wash your hands?

  • Before, during, and after preparing food — here is an article I posted here at The Gate on Tuesday, June 16, 2009 ago about a woman who sneezes while preparing food but does not wash her hands before fulfilling the order
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After touching garbage

What is the proper way to wash your hands?

  • Wet your hands with clean running water — warm or cold, although I prefer warm to hot — and apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

What to Do if Soap and Water are Not Available?

If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but keep in mind that sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs. Also, it is probably not a good idea to eat foods that you intend to eat with your hands without using an eating utensil — such as a fork — immediately after using a hand sanitizer, as there is a slight risk of ingesting the ethyl alcohol from the hand sanitizer. This precaution especially applies to young children, according to an article by Sanjay Gupta, who is the chief medical correspondent at CNN.

Cleaning off surfaces with antibacterial wipes could help, as sanitizing can assist in the prevention of contracting any kind of viral or bacterial infection — but I do not do that at all when traveling or at any other time. Just be sure you do not touch your face after touching a foreign object.

You may want to consider washing your hands before passing through an airport security checkpoint — but ensure that you thoroughly rinse off the soap you used, as the glycerine found in soap and hand lotion could possibly set off the scanner device.

Here are some other interesting findings from the study:

  • Only approximately 50 percent of men used soap and 15 percent did not wash their hands at all.
  • Approximately 78 percent of women used soap and 7 percent of women did not wash their hands at all.
  • People were less likely to wash their hands when faced with a dirty sink; whereas a clean sink increased the length of time spent hand washing.
  • People were more likely to wash their hands earlier in the day.
  • People were more likely to wash their hands if there was a sign encouraging them to do so.

Advice

Would a hotel guest wash his or her hands fewer times if less soap was provided in the hotel room due to initiatives supposedly designed to save the environment — and save money in the process?

As I alluded earlier, I can vouch for the importance of properly washing your hands. I offered the following advice from an article posted here at The Gate on Thursday, April 4, 2013 pertaining to a new strain of bird flu virus:

  • Perhaps I may be obsessive, but I always wash my hands when I touch someone or something about which I am uncertain as to whether or not it — or he or she — is clean. The extra time spent washing your hands can save you from much more down time while suffering from less than good health. That is an investment of my time on which I receive an excellent return.
  • Someone once commented to me upon observing me that I wash my hands similar to a doctor. This means washing every part of my hands in warm water from the wrists to the fingertips and scraping underneath each fingernail thoroughly for at least 30 seconds — long after a lather of suds has been built up on my hands.
  • Before I begin washing, I use a paper towel to turn on the faucet, pump the soap and turn off the faucet when I am done, as well as open the door to exit so that I do not come into contact with germs and contaminate myself — and, contrary to popular belief, it does not matter whether or not the soap is of the antibacterial variety.
  • If the soap is a solid bar rather than in liquid form, I wash the exterior of the soap several times before I use it to wash myself.
  • I tend to occasionally rub my eyes, which could potentially be a recipe for disaster if my hands are contaminated. However, once I touch something unknown to be contaminated, I will either hold off on rubbing my eyes or employ a portion of my body to do so instead — such as the back of one of my fingers, or my arm.
  • Because the hands are the most likely body parts to be contaminated by germs — other than bare feet, that is — they require more care than other parts of your body, such as your forehead, your neck or your face. However, those body parts should be clean as well. Especially keep contamination away from your eyes, ears and nose, as they are amongst the most susceptible parts of your body to microorganisms which cause infections and illnesses.

Summary

Although implementing the other forms of advice in this article certainly would not hurt and can even help, washing your hands regularly is amongst the best ways to prevent the spread of diseases, infections, and even illnesses such as the common cold. I speak from experience: with a few minor exceptions that are too negligible to even mention, I have not suffered from a cold, fever or other illness in several years since I adopted the aforementioned habits in order to avoid getting sick or catching an illness. I have never even had a flu shot. That is because I am diligent about washing my hands.

Some people might suggest that I have tendencies towards being obsessive and compulsive when it comes to washing my hands. Others might conclude that my results might be psychosomatic in nature.

Does it really matter what people think about me pertaining to washing my hands?

All I know is that it works for me — and it can work for you as well if you are diligent about washing your hands properly to increase your chances of avoiding illnesses in the future.

Chicken soup can certainly be a tasty and nutritious way to help prevent illness; but it is not the most effective way in and of itself. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

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