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3 Habits To Start Now For A Healthier Cold & Flu Season 

Woman blowing her nose
Image by staticnak1983 / iStock
October 30, 2022

Tissues bundled up by the bed, sleeping with your mouth wide open, and a mild headache that never really goes away… Yep, we're talking about cold and flu season. If you're familiar with any of the aforementioned scenarios, you know it's no fun.

While the sniffles may seem inevitable, there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself this season to boost your immune system and strengthen your defenses. Here are our top three tips:

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1.

Settle into a sleep routine. 

You should prioritize a good snooze all year long—for the sake of overall health and immunity—but especially if you're feeling icky. Have you ever gotten sick after a weekend of late nights? That's not a coincidence.

Beyond anecdotal evidence, research demonstrates why you should put sleep first, too—this study1, for example, worked with 153 male and female participants and found that those with shorter sleep duration in the weeks leading up to exposure to a rhinovirus (a fancy word for a cold) were less likely to be resistant to the illness.

Translation: The less you sleep (especially if it's less than seven hours a night, the study reads), the more likely you are to catch a common cold (and increase your risk for cardiovascular illness, we might add). 

There's no one universal technique to maintain a consistent snooze schedule, but these 15 better sleep tips will certainly put you on the right track, as will these sleep aids.

2.

Don't skip your vitamin C. 

It's the most classic tip of all, but it reigns true nevertheless: Get enough vitamin C. But why is vitamin C so important for immune system support? First of all, it promotes the multiplication of lymphocytes2—a type of white blood cell—to combat foreign invaders in the body.

What's more, vitamin C also helps neutrophils3, another type of white blood cell, "eat" and destroy bad microbes. To sum it all up: Vitamin C performs essential and unique functions in the body, especially for immune health. And you don't want to wait until you're sick to start prioritizing your intake.

If you don't want to count your vitamin C intake daily, a supplement is an easy and safe bet to ensure you're getting an effective daily dose (and actually absorbing it). Here are the nine best vitamin C supplements we recommend, backed by a nutrition Ph.D. 

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3.

Minimize stress when you can. 

Whether your primary source of stress comes from work, relationships, finances, or another factor—it's not easy to just "stop" stressing. However, there are a few research-backed activities that can help relieve some of it, which is actually essential to a healthy immune system ready to fight off colds.

In fact, chronic stress actually suppresses4 your immune response by releasing the hormone cortisol, Heather Moday, M.D., previously told mbg. "Cortisol itself interferes with the ability of specific white blood cells called T-cells to proliferate and get signals from the body," she says. "In addition, cortisol also lowers an important antibody called secretory IgA, which lines the respiratory tract and gut and is our first line of defense against invading pathogens," Moday continues.

So what should you do to stop the cycle? Well, one study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine suggests that meditation can increase levels of IgA—those same antibodies cortisol can lower. If meditation isn't your thing, don't worry; there are plenty of other stress-relieving activities to add to your routine, like daily exercise, yoga, or journaling, to name a few.

The takeaway. 

Cold and flu season is often dreadful and ultimately unavoidable to some degree. That being said, you can strengthen your immune system by getting enough sleep, maintaining adequate vitamin C levels, and reducing stress where you can. And if you do end up catching a cold, these seven tips will help you get over it ASAP.

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Hannah Frye
Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.