Blow off sick season

It’s that time of the year, but it doesn’t mean a cold has to take you down. Same for the fl u. These new science-backed strategies will help keep you strong and healthy.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

While flu viruses circulate year round in Singapore, there are two peak transmission periods – with one (between April and June) just round the corner. Which means it’s now time to ramp up your body’s defences against the viruses. Though the fl u shot is not 100 per cent eff ective, experts say that it is still worth getting. There’s no harm, too, in adopting these measures aimed at giving your immune system a boost and helping you stay well.

Choose cardio

Exercise is the number-one thing you can do to keep healthy. People who exercise fi ve or more times a week are 43 per cent less likely to get sick than those who exercise once a week, a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found. Cardio may be especially benefi cial, the study’s authors say. “During aerobic exercise, your immune cells move around more throughout the body and bloodstream. As a result, they’re better able to detect and destroy invading pathogens,” explains David Nieman, the lead researcher. Workouts such as running, swimming, cycling and rowing seem to be the most eff ective, he adds.
Get a little extra sleep

In a recent study, after subjects were exposed to a live cold virus, 39 per cent of people who had slept six hours or less got sick, compared with just 18 per cent of those who had slept more than six hours, the journal Sleep reports. “Sleep loss has been associated with diminished function of the immune cells that help you fi ght off  viruses,” says Aric Prather, the study’s author.

If you’re achy, turn in early. “If you do come down with a cold, getting more sleep when you’re fi rst feeling ill may help your body fi ght it faster, though more research is needed.”

Fill up on this anti-cold nutrient

One of your healthy go-tos has new-found powers, research shows. “Fibre isn’t just food for you; it’s an energy source for gut bacteria,” says Benjamin Marsland, the author of a study on the nutrient’s immunity- strengthening eff ects. “When gut bacteria ferment fi bre, metabolites are produced that help the immune system attack the fl u virus.” Soluble fi bre (which attracts water and slows digestion) seems to deliver more immune benefi ts than the insoluble kind (which speeds digestion), he adds. Aim for 25g of fi bre a day, a quarter of it soluble. Brussel sprouts have about 4g of soluble fi bre per cup; half a cup of black beans has 2.4g; asparagus has almost 2g per half cup; and half a cup of sweet potato has 1.8g.

Gargle after every meal 

If you gargle with plain water for 15 seconds three times a day, you can reduce your odds of catching a cold by nearly 40 per cent, according to research in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Colds are often passed along when someone coughs or sneezes near you and you breathe in the infected droplets. Gargling physically removes the enzymes in the mouth and throat that help those viral cells replicate, the study’s authors say. 

Adjust your attitude 

Besides making you happy, a positive outlook may also help you stay healthy, says Suzanne Segerstrom, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky in the US. Her research found that people who were optimistic had higher levels of T cells, which play an important role in the body’s immune response. It turns out that optimism acts as an antidote to stress, which negatively aff ects immune function. It may sound simplistic, but “if you’re in a demanding situation, staying confi dent and upbeat will help protect you from illness,” Suzanne says.

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Book a window seat 
A seat with a view is the healthiest spot on the plane. Contrary to popular belief, aeroplane air itself isn’t bad for you, because it’s heavily fi ltered. But extended periods of close contact with an infectious passenger can be. On average, travellers who sit by the window encounter just 12 people per trip, while aisle-sitters are exposed to 64 people, increasing their chances of getting sick, says Vicki Stover Hertzberg, a professor and the director of the Center for Data Science at Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing in the US, who has studied this. If you do end up on the aisle, “wash your hands often and don’t touch your face,” Vicki says.