Maybe it's not winter yet. But once sickness season sets in (admit it: chances are you're already feeling sniffly), the common cold threatens to zap your energy, break your routine—and keep you out of the gym.
So how can you stay healthy while your friends and coworkers fall prey to nasty germs? While there's no cure for the common cold, our medical expert, Isaac Eliaz, M.D., Director of Amitabha Medical Clinic, says there's no reason to feel helplessly doomed, either. With some smart habits and a little help from nature, you can safeguard your immune system against the season's grossest illnesses.
Read on for his best tips on staying healthy and strong.
To get fit, you work out regularly. But if you don’t give your body time to rest after strenuous exercise, you’re only upping the chance that you’ll get sick. Lack of sleep and overworked muscles have the same effect on your health, producing an “acidic environment in your body, which creates a breeding ground for viruses and germs to take over,” says Dr. Eliaz. The solution? Give your muscles some down time, and make sure you get 7 to 9 hours of solid sleep a night.
What seems like common sense in the gym can sometimes fall by the wayside after you leave. Staying hydrated, though, can help you stay healthy—the trick is doing it right. Swap out the sweetened sports drinks for filtered water, says Dr. Eliaz, because sugary drinks can “spike glucose levels, which can suppress immunity over time and make you more susceptible to colds and flus.” You can add extra no-sugar electrolyte packets or tablets to your water to get an extra boost, but the key to staying well-hydrated is drinking before you are actually thirsty. Remember that.
Stress can drain your immune system, which increases your risk of getting sick. (Don't believe it? In one 2012 study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people who experienced a major stressful event were two times more likely to catch the common cold.) So think of “chilling out” as just another exercise for your workout routine, which can help keep your body strong. Dr. Eliaz suggests yoga and Tai Chi, but meditation and counseling can also help.
Wait...are we telling you to take magic mushrooms? Not quite. Medicinal mushrooms have been a standby of traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years, and the supplement may also help boost your immunity to ward of illness—and speed your recovery if you do get sick. Now, we're still a little skeptical, but Dr. Eliaz says athletes swear by them for extra energy and stamina. If you want to give it a try, pick up a blend designed for immunity and overall vitality (preferably organic) at a Chinese medicine specialist.
Curcumin, a substance derived from the spice turmeric, is a natural way of boosting your immune system and health during cold season, says Dr. Eliaz. Look for curcumin or whole turmeric powder in tablets or capsules—in general, experts typically recommend 400 to 600 milligrams three times a day.
For overall health, especially during cold season, consider taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement, says Dr. Eliaz. Look for one that contains vitamins A, C, and D-3, along with the minerals zinc and selenium, and the amino acid L-carnitine. All of these can help keep your immune system healthy.
Like other natural supplements that stimulate your immune system, garlic may decrease the frequency of the common cold—by as much as 64 percent, according to a 2001 study in Advances in Therapy. Participants took garlic pills, but the active ingredients in garlic can be destroyed with cooking and drying. So for maximum benefit, chop or mash a few cloves a day into your food. (Then...chew fresh parsley to get rid of garlic breath. Your lady will thank you.)
This herbal remedy, prepared from the purple coneflower, is still up for great debate in the medical community. (File under: More research needed.) But here's what you need to know to cut through all the existing crap: While there's no evidence taking echinacea will prevent a cold, it could possibly reduce a cold's duration, according to one 2010 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. So if you're a believer, keep some on hand and take it as the first signs of that itchy throat and sniffly nose surface. The recommended dose for adults is two capsules or one teaspoon of the liquid version four times a day.