Last Christmas, I came down with the flu for the first time in years (if ever- it can be hard to tell the difference sometimes). Needless to say, I was miserable. While there is never really a good time to be sick, feeling ill during the holidays can be especially frustrating. However, in addition to being winter time, the holiday season seems to up our chances of getting sick for a few reasons. Parties and family get-togethers in crowded places, increased consumption of unhealthy foods and refined sugar (and, for many, alcohol), less time for exercise, more travelling and stress… All of these factors may make you more susceptible to catching a cold or the flu.
While the conditions I’ve outlined may distract you from taking care of yourself, try thinking of your efforts as an investment. Not only are there steps you can take to ward off colds and flu, but many of these steps are identical to what you should be doing to take care of your heart health. Avoiding short term illnesses (barring complications, of course) might take the back seat, but protecting your heart is a lifelong endeavor. Below, I’ve compiled some of the most important steps you can take to stay healthy in more ways than one!
Heart healthy habits that will also help you avoid catching a cold or flu this holiday season:
1. Eat nutritious foods! Fruits and vegetables are your best defense. Eat a variety of brightly coloured produce to increase your intake of important vitamins and minerals. Round out your diet with whole grains and smaller amounts of lean proteins, meat alternatives, fish, and dairy or dairy alternatives. Keep sugar to a minimum and eat whole fruits or smoothies often while limiting your intake of concentrated juices.
2. Be active. Exercise isn’t just about losing weight. Physical activity helps keep every part of your body working the way it is meant to. Aim for at least an average of 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity every day, even if that means breaking it into 10 minute chunks.
3. Get enough rest. This might be particularly difficult during the busy holiday months but it is just as important as ever. Different people have different sleep requirements so listen to your body!
4. Stay hydrated by drinking water. If you are someone who drinks a lot of coffee, pop (including diet or zero calorie soda), or juice, try to replace them with water at least a few times per day. Squeezing some lemon, lime, or other citrus fruit into your water will help give it some flavour while also adding small amounts of healthy nutrients.
5. Avoid smoking or at least work to cut down on your smoking. Smoking may increase your chance of catching the flu. Smoking also makes cold and flu symptoms worse and there is a higher mortality rate for smokers than nonsmokers from influenza. Smoking also increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, and many other conditions.
6. Manage your stress. Again, this can be very hard to do during the holidays. Susan recently wrote a blog with tips on how to do this. But, the good news is that following the above 5 steps is likely to help you reduce your stress in the first place!
And, of course, regularly washing your hands is just good practice! Do you do anything else to boost your immune system, protect your heart, and fight off cold and flu?
By Aaryn Secker
Aaryn earned her BEd at McGill University in Montreal and her MEd at Brock University in St. Catharines. She is currently the Education and Communications Coordinator at Heart Niagara and has an interest in community learning.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in blog entries are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Heart Niagara.