Almost everyone loves fall, but absolutely no one loves flu season. Unfortunately, the two tend to commence right around the same time.
Anyone who’s ever suffered from the flu or even the common cold knows just how utterly unpleasant a viral sickness can be, especially because they can be challenging to treat.
Usually the most you can do is rest until the virus runs its course, which is why avoiding infection all together is a much more effective plan of attack.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, between five to 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts the flu each year, and on average, flu complications land about 200,000 Americans in the hospital annually.
Luckily, aside from getting a flu shot, there are several healthy habits you can follow (and a few things you can avoid) that will help decrease your risk of getting sick, both during flu season and all year round.
To find out the best tips and tricks, we turned to a few experts for advice about what you can do in order to improve your immune response.
Dr. Kathy Gruver, Ph.D. is a health and wellness expert and the author of Conquer your Stress with Mind/Body Technique; Kusha Karvandi is a nutrition expert, personal trainer, best-selling author, and host of the Exerscribe Radio podcast; and Dr. Kalpana DePasquale is a physician and Founder at St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat.
Continue reading to find out what they say you should do to ensure you stay healthy and flu-free all year long.
Wash your hands, but too much.
“Hand washing can improve your immune system by avoiding exposure to common viruses such as the flu and avoiding the spread of bacterial infections,” DePasquale said. “However, excessive hand washing can surprisingly be a detriment to your immune system. With minimal to no exposure to dirt and bacteria, your immune system suffers from a lack of stimulation to produce the right defenses, making you more susceptible to infections.”
Get enough sleep.
“Not getting enough sleep can lead to higher levels of a stress hormone and may also lead to more inflammation in your body,” DePasquale explained. “Get seven to nine hours of sleep to optimize the immune system function.”
Editor's Note: This story was published October 2014 and updated October 2015.