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Tips for Staying Healthy This Flu Season

Being sick with the flu is no fun!
Being sick with the flu is no fun!
From late fall until spring, people of all ages are more likely to catch colds and flu - for many reasons, including more time spent indoors where viruses can spread, and reduced immunity because of lowered Vitamin D levels (Vitamin D is the "sunshine vitamin").

Unless you are in a high-risk group, there's little evidence that flu shots can protect you.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), last season's effectiveness was only around 56% - and its effectiveness against the specific 2012-2013 strain was only 47% across all age groups.  Among those over 65, the vaccine was only effective against Influenza A and B type viruses 27% of the time.  Given those numbers, and the risk of side effects that make you feel as if you had the flu anyway, many people are seeking alternative ways of staying healthy this season.

Whether you opt for the shot or not, doctors agree that the most important factor in warding off cold and flu bugs is the health of your immune system.  In order to avoid illness, then, it makes sense to take steps to insure that your immune system is functioning optimally.  I'll discuss a few of these simple steps here.

Of course, I'm an acupuncturist, so it goes without saying that I view acupuncture, sometimes supplemented with herbal tonics, as a great way to keep your immune system in top shape.  But I also realize the importance of dietary habits, exercise, and other elements of one's lifestyle.   Here are some tips for you to stay healthy until the warm summer weather comes:

1. Maintain adequate levels of Vitamin D: Lowered exposure to UV-B rays can result in reduced Vitamin D levels.  The Vitamin D Council recommends supplementing with 1,000-5,000 IU per day during flu season to keep your overall levels over 38 ng/mL (your levels can be determined with a simple blood test).

2. Stay warm: Cold air constricts the small blood vessels in your respiratory tract, making it more difficult for immune cells to get to viruses and neutralize them at their point of entry.

3. Keep inside air humidified: Dry air helps viruses live longer in the environment outside of your body, meaning they are more likely to infect you and your family.

4. Get adequate sleep: Nighttime is when our physiological systems replenish their energy stores and achieve homeostasis.  Without a good night's rest, your resistance is lower.

5. Find ways to deal with stress: We all have stress, especially after the holidays.  Stress increases the levels of cortisol, adrenaline, and other hormones needed in emergency situations, and at the same time inhibiting functions that aren't essential in emergencies, such as digestion and immune response.  These effects can linger long after the actual situation that produced the stress is over.  People have found that exercise, meditation, listening to music, or other techniques can reduce stress levels - find what works for you.

6. Don't smoke, and drink only in moderation: That goes without saying, right?  

7. Get plenty of exercise: Fairly vigorous exercise 3-4 times a week, according to your physical abilities, helps keep your immune system in shape - and it's good for your heart, too!

8. Eat a healthy diet: Load up on fruits and vegetables, and don't overeat.  Make sure you get the right nutrients to support immune health.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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