Contrary to widespread belief, colds and flu aren’t caused by being exposed to cold. This myth is probably a result of that we stay indoors with the windows closed in the colder months, coughing on each other, and consuming an inferior diet of fridge-stored foods.
Colds and flu are caused by viruses, which can’t be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics do kill bacteria, but there’s no medication for viruses. Technically, they aren’t living beings, but complex configurations of molecules. The easiest way to stay healthy and stay on track with your training is to simply avoid getting sick in the first place. These are five strategies that are most often recommended to keep you from falling ill.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
You might think that sleep is a waste of time when you have deadlines at work and training to do, but you should sleep at least seven hours a night if you want to keep your immune system strong.
In 1994, a study published in the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine discovered that getting even an hour or more less than that affects natural killer cell activity. These cells are vital to the innate immune system, and fight viral infections. In another study, Ying Cheong and Bill Ledger examined sleep deprivation, and found out that it decreases the production of protective cytokines, which are essential to suppress infections. In 2000, a study of melatonin published in the Annals of the NY Academy of Sciences discovered that melatonin is produced during deep sleep, reduces inflammation, and protects your cells. Fortunately the shortened days of winter make sleeping in easier. To get quality sleep, avoid TV and computer screens before bed, and sleep in total darkness.
BREATH THROUGH YOUR NOSE
In adults, 18,000 to 20,000 liters of air passes through the nose every day. Using fine hairs and mucus, your nose filters bacteria, dust and pollen from the air. In addition, your nose humidifies and warms cold, dry air which would otherwise irritate your throat. In a 2010 study by T. Renee Anthony, it was shown that the bigger your nose, the better, because there’s even more space for the filtration system.
Breathing through your mouth is the only way to get enough air when exercising above low intensity, however breath through your nose at all other times, especially when sitting in an air-conditioned office, at home with snotty-nosed family, or in crowded shopping centers.
In his seminal 1953 book Yoga and Health, Selvarajan Yesudian says: “In case of emergency, a person can be fed through his nose. But a healthy person would never think of stuffing food into his nose. Then why does he breathe through his mouth?”
DON’T TRAIN TOO MUCH
The risk of getting an upper respiratory tract infection increases considerably in periods of endurance training, and after a demanding event. This occurs because your body goes into a state of prolonged stress, as shown by research published in the journal of Immunology and Cell Biology in 2000. Don’t exceed your training volume, rest enough, and mix up your sessions, because monotony is a contributing factor.
Demanding training sessions suppress your immune system for 3-72 hours. Avoid shopping centers and runny-nosed family members after a long hard run to minimize your exposure to infection in this window period.
ENSURE ENOUGH VITAMIN D
A deficiency in this important vitamin increases your risk to get infected, while optimal vitamin D in your system is believed to enhance athletic performance. What’s shocking is that one billion people around the world don’t get enough vitamin D.
Increase your vitamin D by spending five minutes in strong sunlight if you’re light-skinned and 30 minutes if you’re dark-skinned, four times a week.
Research on vitamin D showed that it makes bones and skeletal muscles stronger, which helps prevent injury. Other things to ensure you get enough of are zinc, selenium, vitamins A, B2, B6, C and E, as some studies found a link between them and immune effectiveness.
REDUCE CONTACT WITH GERMS
We don’t want to send you into a landslide of hypochondria and obsessive compulsive cleanliness, but here are some tips for decreasing your contact with the microscopic baddies:
- Close the toilet lid before you flush. If you are not sure if your family can follow this rule, keep your toothbrush well away from the toilet bowl. Microbes in the toilet become airborne with each flush.
- Wash your hands regularly. Warm soapy water for 15 to 20 seconds will rid your hands of the flu virus.
- Don’t touch your mouth, eyes, or nose with your fingers. Regular handwashing is very effective, but even if the nasty microbes get onto your hands, this is how you avoid infection.
- Clean your phones, mouse and keyboard. A little rubbing alcohol in distilled water on a microfiber cloth will disinfect your touchscreen phone without damaging its finish. A wet wipe works for your landline, mouse and plastic keyboard. Also, don’t forget on the TV remote and gaming consoles.