How to Avoid a Cold This Winter

Don’t want to be that person with a disgusting snotty noise constantly sniffing in lectures? In this article I’ll highlight how to beat whatever is ailing you this colder season, and how to prevent any future illnesses.

It would’ve been easy to let myself be miserable when I came down with a horrible hacking, chesty cough last week. Even eating healthily and exercising regularly can’t always fend off sickness, and it’s pretty frustrating. As we’re transitioning into winter, lots of you here at Uni will also inevitably catch something unpleasant. As students are notorious for their poor nutrition (I know alcohol funds come before vegetables) and sleep deprivation (from studying too hard, of course, not going to town 3 times last week), I’m sure many of you will be in the same boat as me. So, if you’re feeling the beginnings of any cold-like symptoms, take heed of the following wise words.

To exercise or not to exercise? That is the question. If you’re fairly fit, then forgoing your daily workout is a depressing prospect. However, when your immune system is weakened, rigorous exercise can worsen your symptoms and leave you unable to be active for much longer than if you’d only given yourself a break. This actually happened to me last year, when I got the same chesty cough I’m suffering from now, but didn’t stop exercising. My refusal to stop going for runs and to the gym caused the rather unpleasant cough to drag on for over 2 months. But where do you draw the line on what constitutes ‘too sick to exercise’?

Lewis G. Maharam, a New York City-based sports medicine expert says a good rule of thumb for this situation is; “Do what you can do, and if you can’t do it, then don’t. Most people who are fit tend to feel worse if they stop their exercise, but if you have got a bad case of the flu and can’t lift your head off the pillow, then chances are you won’t want to go run around the block.” Neil Schachter, a Medical Director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai Medical Centre in New York adds; “If your symptoms are above the neck, including a sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, and tearing eyes, then it’s OK to exercise. If your symptoms are below the neck, such as coughing, body aches, fever and fatigue, then it’s time to hang up the running shoes until these symptoms subside.” The squat rack will always be there, gym bunnies. Look after yourselves.

Try stretchy stuff. I was gutted I couldn’t fully utilise my new gym membership in the first few weeks, but did go to a few yoga and ‘stretch’ classes. Both had enthusiastic instructors and are challenging in a different way than you may be used to. These are a great opportunity to work on flexibility and balance while high intensity cardio and strength are ruled out. They also relieve any stress or tension you’re holding in your body, which helps you relax and focus on rest. If you’re suffering from a cold or any congestion like I was, many of the poses are excellent for opening up the chest area and moving any phlegm off your lungs. The Rec Centre also offers Tai Chi and Pilates as lower intensity options.

Lots of people don’t consider walking as exercise because it’s just so easy, and you do it all the time. However, Dr Craig Williams, a sports science lecturer at the University of Exeter is a firm advocate for the underappreciated sport of walking, and says; “It can improve muscle endurance as well as muscle strength, especially in the lower body. It is good for bones, improves the body’s cardiovascular system, and also helps boost circulation.” So, don’t feel like you’re being set back on your fitness just because you have to tone back the intensity. As long as you’re moving in some way, your muscles are working and you’re burning calories.

Unless you’re really sick, and just getting out of bed is a struggle, endeavour to keep in a routine. If you normally go to the gym/play sport/run or whatever at a particular time, keep devoting that period to some type of physical movement. You’ve worked this hard at developing a good habit of exercising, so stick to it for when you’re well again. It’ll be easier to get back into your normal practice when you never really got out of it.

Please, if you’re too sick to go to lectures: give alcohol a rest. It’s only until you’re better. When you’re unwell, one of the most important things to do is drink lots of fluids. Too much alcohol leaves you dehydrated – potentially worsening cold symptoms such as congestion. It can also suppress your immune system and inhibit absorption of nutrients. These factors combined with the likelihood of a late night that goes with drinking will leave you utterly wrecked. One weekend in won’t destroy your social life and you’ll have more money to spend on drinks next weekend.

If you think you have something serious like the flu, bronchitis or pneumonia, put this magazine down right now and go get it checked out. They’re contagious sicknesses, so don’t go spreading your germs around campus! You’ll be back to normal a lot faster if you get on the right medication or antibiotics, so see your GP or visit the University Health Centre. The Uni Centre offers doctor and nurse consultations, prescriptions and everything else you’ll need to bounce back to full health asap.

Because you’re not burning as many calories whilst your body is in a more restful mode, focusing on what you’re eating is very important. This is not only to maintain a healthy weight, but also to make a quick recovery. An interesting quote I heard from a yoga instructor at Wanderlust yesterday that really makes sense was; “Your body is like a Ferrari. And like any high performance machine, you need to treat it right in order for it to function at its peak.” A simple guideline to follow is; the closer to nature it is, the better it’ll be for you. Preservatives, added sugar, flavouring and colours won’t do anything to help your poor, run-down body get better. Of course it’s always important to eat healthily, but even more so when you’re sick. One way or another, your ‘ferrari’ has ‘broken down’ and you need to fuel it correctly so you can get back to zooming around at top speed. Sorry, that was really cheesy, but there’s a lot of truth in it.

Now you know how to get over your cold, here’s a few tips on how to avoid getting sick in the first place. As the saying goes, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Being ill sucks, so you might as well do what you can to prevent it, right?

Schachter (the Medical Director) says that “Thirty minutes of regular exercise three to four times a week has been shown to raise immunity by raising levels of T cells, which are one of the body’s first defences against infection.” This can be anything from brisk walking to sprint training. Find something that fits into your schedule that you enjoy, and are likely to stick at.

Another way to prevent getting ill, that many of you may have forgotten in the absence of your dear mothers reminding you, is to wash your hands! “The value of hand washing cannot be overstated,” Schachter says. “I recommend washing hands before and after using the restroom, before meals, after using public transportation, and after returning home from school or work.” Being a bit of a germ-o-phobe myself, I would also add pushing the button at pedestrian crossings, restroom doors, library/uni computers and doors in general. Why would you want to trust that the hundreds/thousands of people who touched those things before you are hygienic? Don’t be too obsessive about it though, there’s no way to completely avoid contact with germs, and regular contact with them strengthens your immune system.

Getting enough sleep is vital for a well functioning immune system. One study found that sleeping less than 7 hours a night almost triples your risk of getting a cold in the first place. 8 hours is ideal for most people, so make getting to bed on time a priority. Often a contributing factor to not sleeping enough is stress. High levels of stress hormones can stop your immune system from working normally.

Although a lot of these points may have been common sense to you already, it’s easy to forget them in the hype of a hectic student life. A healthy mind begins with a healthy body, and you’ll be able to concentrate a whole lot better on your studies when you’re at your healthiest.

Georgia Harris


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