Did you know that flu can sometimes be a severe life-threatening disease? Flu causes 250 000 - 500 000 deaths annually worldwide.  With winter in full swing, you can protect your immune system and knock out flu this winter with these easy lifestyle choices.

Get vaccinated

The best way to reduce your chances of contracting the flu is by getting the flu vaccination. The best time to get the vaccine is in March/April before the flu season starts although it is available throughout the year. It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to give your body immunity against the specific strains. While the vaccine does not always prevent the flu it does reduce the severity and reduces the risk of complications. The vaccine is available at all clinics, pharmacies and hospitals.

Get active

Exercise helps build immunity. According to research exercise makes your heart pump faster and strengthens your immune system.

Have a healthy diet

You can boost your immunity with the foods you eat. These foods are a must to include in your winter diet: foods rich in vitamin C such as oranges, lemons, grapefruit and guavas; foods with beta-carotene like pumpkin, sweet potatoes and butternut. Fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids and sources of zinc such as fish, oysters, meat, poultry and eggs and food that contain fermentation organisms, like yoghurt. Reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates such as white bread, trans and saturated fats and sugar which can lower resistance and increase the risk of infection. Drink lots of water and herbal teas to stay hydrated.

Supplements and immune boosts

There is evidence that the following natural supplements can help boost your immunty and help your body fight the flu:

    • There is preliminary evidence that probiotics can help prevent infections in the intestines and may help boost immunity and prevent colds. There are, however, no studies that have specifically studied the effect of probiotics on flu.

    • Zinc is essential for your immune system. If you are not getting enough dietary zinc, consider taking a zinc supplement, which can not only help boost immunity in zinc deficient individuals, but is good for boosting a number of other health functions.

    • In vitro testing has shown that spirulina can stop some flu viruses from reproducing.

    • Black elderberry can help reduce the symptoms of cold and flu.

    • Garlic, echinacea and andrographis are all herbal remedies that have evidence to support their immunity boosting properties.

Improve your hygiene habits

According to a University of Michigan study masks and hand hygiene could reduce the spread of flu-like symptoms up to 75%. Wash your hands several times a day with soap and water; be sure to wash your hands for at least 20-seconds to get rid of all germs. Dry them with a paper towel. Keep your hands away from your nose and mouth whenever possible. If you need to sneeze do so in the crook of your arm to avoid germs from coming into contact with your nose. Eat with a knife and a fork to avoid germs from being transferred from your hands to your food.

Get enough sleep

Fatigue weakens your immune system making you more susceptible to colds and flu. Make sure you get at least 8-10 hours of sleep.

Reduce stress

Stress dampens the immune system making you easily susceptible to viral infections. Manage your stress through exercise, meditation, treat yourself to a relaxing massage, listen to some soothing music. Remember a healthy mind equals a healthy body.

Protect yourself at work

The office especially an open-plan environment is a breeding ground for viruses. Telephones, desks, water fountain handles, microwave door handles and computer keyboards contain large amounts of germs that cause viruses. Wipe down your desk and other common surfaces with antiseptic wipes. Tissues are germ carriers always throw them away immediately after they have been used. Avoid contact with anyone who has flu-like symptoms such as coughing or sneezing.

Stay home

Despite your best efforts viral infections can still creep up on you. If you wake up feeling sick, stay home and rest. Staying home prevents you from passing on the virus to others and resting restores your immune system and speeds up recovery. If you feel as if you are not getting better and have the following symptoms: high fever, a cough that produces phlegm, difficulties breathing, visit your doctor.

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