Step 1: Start your day with black tea.
Most people aren't just blessed with superhuman immune systems — they work hard at fighting off colds and the flu. And it's likely they've picked up some easy, everyday habits that protect them from illness along the way, like these tips that'll keep you sniffle-free this year.
Research shows that those who sleep 8 hours or more per night are three times less likely to develop a cold compared to people who snooze for less than 7 hours. One reason why: At night your body repairs itself and regulates stress hormones that can make you more susceptible to infection."I instituted a strict sleep/wake schedule in my house that applies on weekdays and weekends. At a recent doctor's appointment for physicals, he said that we hadn't been there for sick visits in over a year — quite a feat for a mom and three kids ages 5 to 16!" says Mikita Burton, Lenexa, Kansas.
Filling up on antioxidant-rich foods like sweet potatoes (beta-carotene), citrus and bell peppers (vitamin C), almonds (vitamin E), and red grapes or red wine (resveratrol) replenishes the cells that are damaged in the fight against germs and bacteria."I used to get bad sinus infections regularly, but I cleaned up my diet — eating more whole foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, and lean protein — and I haven't been sick in two years," says Susan Robertson, Knoxville, Tennessee.
According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, people produce three times more interferons (powerful proteins that destroy viral invaders on ) if they sip 20 ounces of black tea daily — likely because this kind of tea is naturally potent in antioxidants, says Pamela Peeke, M.P.H., an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland. So if you want to ward off sickness, skip the coffee in the morning and start your day with black tea instead.
Make a date to get together with a friend — especially if you're dealing with problems at home or work, suggests research in the journal Psychological Science. People with the most "social support" when faced with a stressful situation were less likely to get ill if exposed to a cold virus — and hugging enhanced the immunity benefit. "Each week, I find a workout I can do with friends, I make sure my husband and I have at least one 'date,' and I call my grandma. These connections energize me and keep me healthier," says Kamden Hoffmann, Morrisville, North Carolina.
According to Ron Eccles, Ph.D., director of the Common Cold Centre at Britain's Cardiff University, keeping your feet warm is super important during flu and cold season. Why? Well cold feet tell your brain to conserve body heat, which means your body will start reducing blood flow to areas that lose heat quickly, he explains. And since decreased blood flow means fewer infection-fighting white blood cells, you'll end up more vulnerable to germs.
You bring the outside world into your mouth every day, and though most bacteria and germs are harmless, some can make you sick. That's where your gut gets in on the action. Good bacteria can enhance your immune system, so you may want to consider taking a probiotic supplement — which contains helpful bacteria — during cold and flu season. Try a multi-strain formula. If you want to skip supplements, eat more fermented foods, like sauerkraut or yogurt."My kids were constantly ill when we moved to a new town a few years ago and we decided to give probiotics a go. Almost immediately, my family's health improved. So long, sick days!" says Alison Schoonover, Columbus, Wisconsin.
One study found that meditation or exercise strengthens immune function, according to research in the journal PLOS ONE. Try yoga classes that combine light yoga with deep breathing and meditation, like restorative yoga. "My regular yoga practice has helped me avoid sickness, but it also calms me. I go to class once a week and do about three at-home sessions per week," says Sarah Boyce, Brooklyn, New York.
You don't have to go crazy with hand washing. You can reduce illness by 16% to 50% if you remember to wash your hands before eating, before, and after prepping food, post-bathroom, and after sneezing or coughing, according to the CDC. Soap and water is preferred (scrub for 20 seconds), but keep hand sanitizer around to de-germ on the go, too. Look for one formulated with at least 60% alcohol. "I was a massage therapist for 10 years and I rarely got sick. I attribute that to consistent and strategic hand washing," says Jennifer Muth, Washington, DC.
No, not all day long, just for 30 minutes. Researchers at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University found a short, calming break can cut your risk of developing illness by up to 80%. "The stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin slow down white blood cells, making it harder for them to kill invading viruses," says Carrie Demers, M.D., medical director of the Total Health Center in Honesdale, Pennsylvania says. "But a fun-filled break that leaves you feeling relaxed squashes adrenaline and cortisol output within minutes, allowing your immune system to aggressively attack invaders."
It's hard to avoid rubbing your eyes in the morning, but it could prevent you from catching a nasty cold, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Occupational Health that found touching your face makes you 41% more likely to develop frequent upper respiratory infections. "The key to changing an undesirable behavior is to substitute it with something beneficial or neutral," says Traci Stein, Ph.D., a health psychologist in New York City.