With cold weather just around the corner, I start to think a bit about winter preparedness and what I can do to keep my family healthy during flu season.
When it comes to the health of my family, I take a very hands-on approach. After spending the past 10 years working in healthcare, I know no one cares more about my family’s health than I do.
This is not a slight on doctors by any means. I know that my family doctor is highly trained in diagnosing disease and prescribing the correct pharmaceuticals to offer swift relief. For that, I am grateful as a mom.
But I know how overwhelmed the health care system is and natural remedies aren’t the first line of defense most doctors recommend. My goal as a mother is to bridge this gap by using things at my disposal to support my family’s immune system during cold and flu season naturally.
Our bodies were designed to fight foreign invaders and there are things we can do to give our bodies a little boost.
Every year I do a few things to prepare for winter. I wanted to share them with you in hope that these small measures will help your family. Let’s all spent more time building snowmen and less time laying on the couch feeling like crap.
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The following suggestions for staying healthy during the flu season are simple and inexpensive. None of them involve holding your family up in the house and being antisocial. In fact, as your friendly nurse, I recommend you get out and enjoy your friends. A community is what life is all about! It makes our mood better, which we really need during these short blustery days.
That being said, germs are tenacious and your body is constantly fighting them off. There is a reason why we have labeled the flu as “a season.” We simply don’t get sick from the flu as much during the warmer months. That doesn’t mean the flu virus isn’t there.
The colder temperatures actually offer a prolonged life for viruses on non-organic mediums like doorknobs and light switches. The sun doesn’t stay out as long so we aren’t getting natural vitamin D to support our immune systems. Our HVAC systems are running on all cylinders pumping out dry heat, so staying hydrated becomes a bit of an issue. Our cells need to be hydrated to work properly you see.
So I have made my case as to why we tend to get sick from these little bugs so much more during the colder months. Now, let’s get on to the tips.
Tips for staying healthy during flu season
1. Get your HVAC system inspected and cleaned
This may seem like common sense but having your HVAC system serviced can often get overlooked. It’s hard for me to remember to change my filters once a month!
I remember a few winters ago we moved into a new house. Right away we had to get a new HVAC and when winter rolled around, I thought I would be all set. The installer had told me that when the temperature got below 40 degrees, the heater would not be as efficient.
At the time, I didn’t know what this meant but that year we had a particularly cold winter. Temperatures got down to the single digits and my house was ice cold.
I am not particularly proud to admit that I went the entire winter sleeping by the oven on broil because I thought this was what the installer had warned me about. Come to find out he actually did some shotty work and wired the auxiliary heat incorrectly. After my fourth cold turned into bronchitis, I finally called an HVAC repair service and they fixed the problem.
Now my house is toasty and warm!
I tell this story because living in such cold temperatures allowed my body to become ill super easily. I can’t imagine putting a small child through that.
The first way to prepare your home for winter is to make sure your HVAC system has a good bill of health. This service costs us about $180 and it is worth every penny!
2. Supplement your body with Vitamin D
As I mentioned before, our body synthesizes Vitamin D from sunlight exposure. Sunlight is in a limited supply during flu season, so I always supplement this vitamin.
Vitamin D plays an important role in many body functions including keeping the immune system in tip-top shape (source).
My favorite way to get Vitamin D is by taking Cod Liver Oil. Cod liver oil is an age-old remedy and one of the best food sources of vitamin D (source). This is my favorite brand because it doesn’t taste fishy and is very fresh.
3. Add elderberry syrup to your water and stay hydrated
I like to sneak elderberry syrup into my son’s sippy cup instead of making a big deal like he is taking medicine.
Speaking of water, make sure you are getting plenty of it during flu season!
4. Keep plenty of vitamin C in the house (just in case)
I remember hearing one of my coworkers talk about how she has worked in healthcare for years and never got sick. Then she became a mom and battled multiple colds each winter.
As much as I wish it was so, It is impossible to completely avoid getting exposed to viruses. As soon as you start to feel run down, start loading up on Vitamin C.
In the ICU, we use IV vitamin C in to treat severe sepsis. That’s how powerful this little vitamin is! Vitamin C is stored and used by our immune cells and a deficiency in it can actually reduce their functioning (source).
Although I don’t want to give specific dosing advice on how much vitamin C to take, we take it until we get the runs. Once that happens your digestive system has absorbed the maximum amount it can. (Vitamin C is water soluble therefore you cannot overdose) This article does a great job at explaining bowel tolerance to vitamin C and why you get the runs.
5. Wash your hands before you eat and when you get home
We carry so many germs on our hands. As a nurse, I know how big a difference washing your hands can make for your health. It literally stops the spread of germs.
My mom, who has no training in healthcare at all, always made us wash our hands the moment we got home. To this day as soon as I enter into my own house, my hands feel dirty until I wash them. I am so thankful she instilled this habit in my life.
If you take your kids out to play in a public place, take them to wash their hands immediately after. You are not going to prevent all exposure this way, but you will minimize the exposure before they touch their eyes, nose, and mouth.
**Side note about washing hands: Just use soap and water! There are terrible chemicals called endocrine disruptors in Purell and it destroys the good bacteria on your hands.
6. Slow down when you feel run down
As a busy person, I know how hard it can be to force yourself to relax, not make plans, and get more sleep. As a mom to a 1-year-old, my day doesn’t stop from sun up to sun down.
When you are battling the flu, this is not the time to try to work on any extra projects. As much as you can, try to go to bed early and get as much sleep as possible. Extra sleep helps your immune cells function at their peak performance.
7. Get some fresh air
When you don’t feel well, you may just want to lay on the couch. The ironic thing about the winter is we try to stay inside to avoid the cold but our indoor air can be more detrimental to our health than the outdoor cold air.
I guess that is why the term “spring cleaning” was coined. I love that first warm day in spring where you can open the windows and get some fresh air in your house.
One really great option to reduce the viral load in your home is to get a really well-designed air purifier.
8. Be mindful of extra stress in your life
You can’t control every stressor in your life but you can give your body a bit of a break. If you are having a particularly busy week or not sleeping as well, this would be an appropriate time to avoid crowded places.
As I said earlier, you don’t need to be antisocial all winter in order to avoid the flu. But after you or your family have a few late nights in a row, or are going through a stressful transition, you may want to stay home to Netflix and chill so you can avoid being exposed.
9. Eat a well-balanced diet
Of all the suggestions I have made, this is by far the most important. Nothing will strengthen your immune system better than a diet that looks like a rainbow.
I’m talking red meat, beets, apples, strawberries, oranges, bananas, lemons, free-range chicken, cucumber, broccoli, spinach, blueberries, pomegranate, and much much more. The more you cook from scratch and avoid processed foods the healthier your body will be.
It does take so much effort to do this. Sometimes I feel like all I ever do is cook food and clean the kitchen. Being a mom is a beautiful mess. The days are long and the years are short. Your efforts to cook nutritious meals for your family will pay dividends.
10. Clean high traffic surfaces regularly
Mix up a glass spray bottle with one part rubbing alcohol, three parts water, and a few drops of tea tree essential oil to make a safe disinfectant.
Spray this on door handles, cabinets, remote controllers, light switches, and other surfaces that are frequently touched. I do this about once a week throughout the winter and every day when someone is sick to reduce the viral burden inside of my home.
11. Exercise throughout the winter
Exercise can improve your health and quality of life, however, I know how challenging it can be to exercise throughout the winter. You can no longer just go outside and run around with the kids.
One of my favorite ways to get exercise when I can’t get outside is to do 15 minutes of interval training.
I grab some dumbbells and do exercises like squats, pushups, situps, overhead press, etc. for 50 seconds on and 10 seconds off. I do this over and over for 15 minutes and let me tell you, my heart is racing!
This type of workout is perfect for moms because it is quick but highly effective.
12. Get plenty of Zinc
Studies have shown that zinc supplementation reduces the duration of the common cold by 33% (source). This is because zinc is crucial for the normal development and function of many different types of immune cells (source).
Foods that are high in zinc include oysters, red meat, poultry, seeds, nuts, and milk. You can also get a zinc supplement made from whole food.
When it comes to staying healthy during
I hope these tips will help you and your family this season! Be sure to check out how I stock my natural medicine cabinet.