As the weather changes, many students are experiencing the effects of the cold through sickness. Whether it be the common cold or the daunting flu virus, it is important to be aware of how to prevent and treat illness. There is too much to do, and not enough time to be sick. However, there IS time to do the little things to make sure you stay happy and healthy this fall and winter. Flu season starts early in Michigan, as the cold weather takes up much of the fall season. Therefore, it is important to be aware of it now. The influenza virus is a pathagen that mainly affects the respiratory system, leading to inflammation in the nose, throat and lungs. Your body’s immune response is what leads to a fever and muscle aches and pains. The flu is also contagious. If you are sick, it is best to stay home (or in your dorm room) as to not spread the virus. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends getting vaccinated for the influenza virus before the end of October because it takes two weeks for the antibodies from the vaccination to develop in your body, and protect against the flu. Staying healthy in general and preventing all types of illnesses is an important game plan for everyone to have set in stone. Below are listed some simple steps to a healthier lifestyle, and an applicable plan for the flu season to come.
This step is a given. However the process should not be overlooked. Always wash your hands with warm water and soap, and make sure to dry them properly. Bacteria can actually spread more easily on wet hands than dry ones. Furthermore, washing your hands may be more effective than hand sanitizer. Some hand sanitizers contain antibacterial products that can actually lead to bacterial resistance. It’s better to wash any pathogens away with water and soap than to rely on sanitizers to kill them off. In a study done by Sacha Pidot et al. (2018) on the “Increasing tolerance of hospital Enterococcus faecium to handwash aclohols”, the authors state that their findings “suggest that bacterial adaptation is complicating infection control recommendations, necessitating additional procedures to prevent E. faecium from spreading in hospital settings”. This study looked at a specific bacteria and its growth in a hospital setting, so these findings cannot be generalized. However it shows that it is possible for bacteria to become resistant to antibacterial products. Therefore, it can be hypothesized that proper handwashing may be more beneficial in the long run when it comes to the ridding of bacteria.
There are many scientific studies that display the negative effects of lack of sleep. This occurs through changes in the levels of circulating pro-inflammatory and antiinflammatory cytokines, along with changes in inflammatory signaling pathways. Inflammatory cytokines are released in the body when experiencing stress, tissue damage and infection. In a study conducted on “The effects of 40 hours of total sleep deprivation on inflammatory markers in healthy young adults” by Danielle Frey et al. (2007), it was displayed that healthy young adults experience an increase in circulating inflammatory proteins after just one night of sleep loss (under experimental conditions). Sleep is a key factor in a strong and healthy immune system. Although school, athletics, clubs, work and other activities may keep you busy throughout the week, prioritizing sleep may prevent you from missing out down the road due to sickness. One easy way to help hold yourself accountable for sleep is to set an alarm for your goal time to get to bed. You set an alarm to wake up, so why not set one to go to sleep? You don’t need a perfect sleep schedule, but prioritizing eight hours a night as much as possible is a good start. Smartphones and smart watches make it easy to track sleep today, so keep an eye out for more ways to hold yourself accountable.
Exercise basically sharpens your immune system, mainly by elevating the amount of white blood cells circulating in your body. This allows for your immune system to identify and fight off pathogens and infection more readily. An active lifestyle comes with several health benefits. Many people fail to acknowledge its significant effect on immunity.
A nutrient-rich diet is yet another way to keep your immune system strong. Antioxidants strengthen and support the immune system. Here is a short list of antioxidant-rich foods to have on hand during the flu season: – Berries – Dark chocolate – Kale – Walnuts – Green tea As you can see, there are more ways to stock up on powerful antioxidants than fruits and veggies! Dark chocolate or nuts such as pecans and almonds are also rich in antioxidants. This molecule is important in defending the body’s cells against damaging circulating free radicals. Basically, they help to decrease negative stress responses in the body from environmental triggers and/ or substances. Examples of antioxidants include Vitamin C and E. An overall healthy diet also helps to keep you focused during the day, preventing the need for caffeinated nights to finish those assignments or studying you left for the last minute. This goes along with a more organized sleep schedule as well. While fitting micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) into your everyday diet is the best form of supplementation, having a multivitamin – especially as a college student – is a great way to make sure you’re getting your daily dose of the most important nutrients.
Finally, when desperate times call for desperate measures, chug your Emergen-C. You will notice a difference right away, and possibly combat a creeping illness. As you can see, a healthy lifestyle consists of many factors. Exercise can help to improve immunity directly and indirectly, through an improvement in sleep. Diet and sleep can aid in immunity, along with giving you enough energy to exercise. All of these factors come together to help you form a stronger, better you. The more you prioritize your health, the less likely you will be to contract a bacterial or viral infection. The less you get sick, the more you will be able to acccomplish. The more you accomplish, the better you will feel. So, stay sharp through healthy choices, and keep these habits up by getting organized and putting your health first more often.