Simple practices can keep you healthier

January 16, 2008|By LYNN LITTLE

During the cold and flu season, all of us can reduce our chances of getting and spreading colds and the flu by following some simple practices.

Wash your hands often

At home, hand washing can prevent infection and illness from spreading from family member to family member and, sometimes, throughout a community. In the home, the basic rule is to wash hands before preparing food, before eating, after changing diapers, after coughing, sneezing or blowing one's nose into a tissue, and after using the bathroom.

Health professionals recommend you wet your hands with warm water, apply soap and rub your hands together for 20 seconds, cleaning up to your elbows if possible. Next, rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue, dry with a single-use paper towel and use the towel to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door.

When it comes to warding off a cold or the flu, one of the most important things to do is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. We tend to associate hand washing with preventing foodborne illness, but it's also a good way to reduce your risk of receiving and spreading cold and flu germs.


Hand washing is a simple thing and it's the best way to prevent infection and illness. Clean hands prevent infections. Keeping hands clean prevents illness at home, at school, and at work. Hand hygiene practices are key prevention tools in health-care settings, in daycare facilities, in schools and public institutions, and for the safe handling of our food.

In health-care settings, hand washing can prevent potentially fatal infections from spreading from patient to patient, from patient to health-care worker or from healthcare worker to patient. The basic rule in the hospital is to cleanse hands before and after each patient contact by either washing hands or using an alcohol-based hand rub.

Keep your body properly hydrated

Staying hydrated is important both in flushing out potential toxins and in helping get through a cold or the flu. Unfortunately, it's easy to overlook the importance of drinking plenty of fluids when it's cold outside.

Common symptoms of dehydration include fatigue, headache, dry nasal passages, dry or cracked lips and overall discomfort. However, by the time you become aware of these symptoms, dehydration has long set in. To avoid dehydration any time of the year, drink at least 6 to 8 cups of liquid daily, part of which can come from water, fruits, vegetables, fruit juices, milk, coffee and tea.

Make healthy food choices

In general, people tend to eat more during the winter, which ultimately can lead to unwanted weight gain.

Following basic nutrition advice to eat a balanced diet containing plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables and consuming fewer sweets and high-fat snack foods can help prevent this weight gain and also ensure that your diet is high in disease-fighting antioxidants. Visit for more advice on healthy food choices.

Stay active

When it's cold and snowy outside, a jog around the block or bicycling to work doesn't sound very tempting. However, regular exercise will help keep your immune system strong. Bring your exercise routine indoors. If you have been exercising outside, the best thing to do is try to duplicate the same activity indoors. There are plenty of alternative ways to keep yourself active during the colder months. Visit for suggestions on ways to get active.

By washing your hands, drinking plenty of fluids, eating nutritiously and staying active, you will have a better chance of staying healthy this winter.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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