1. Don’t waste your money on all those “immune boosting” remedies.
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“Your immune system doesn’t zoom up or down in response to short-term interventions,” Dr. Christopher Sanford, associate professor of global health at the University of Washington and author of the MerckManuals.com travel medicine section, tells BuzzFeed Life.
So as tempting as it is to buy all those pills and drinks that promise to protect against colds and flus, there’s not a ton of research that backs up their effectiveness.
2. And you probably don’t need to load up on vitamins, either.
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Maybe you’ve heard that upping your intake of vitamin C and zinc is key, but the research on all that has been mixed, says Sanford. “The bottom line is if there is a benefit, it’s very small. A lot of studies have found no benefit at all,” he says.
3. Train for holiday travel like it’s an actual marathon.
The only real way to prep your immune system for the inevitable germfest of planes, trains, and sniffling relatives is to stay healthy AF in the time leading up to it. So imagine you’re prepping for a marathon: “Where you rest up for it, you pace yourself, you get regular sleep, you don’t overdo it on the drinking, says Sanford. Basically, you’re not doing anything that would blatantly sacrifice your immune system. It’s not a guarantee against getting sick, but it’s your best shot.
4. Forget what you heard about immune-boosting superfoods and just eat a shitload of fruits and veggies.
There’s not really a magic ingredient that will stave off colds, even if you anecdotally swear by blueberries or avocados or Chipotle. What will help is a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, says Sanford. If you’re eating a good amount of those, you won’t need the over-the-counter vitamins and supplements, because you’ll already be getting all the good stuff straight from the source.
5. Get. Your. Flu. Shot.
Ideally you’d get it one to two weeks before you travel, but it’ll still offer protection even if you get it closer to your trip, says Sanford. And don’t believe those myths that you can get the flu from the flu shot, or that it just doesn’t work. Sure, it’s possible to get the flu even if you’ve been vaccinated, but the shot significantly reduces your chances of getting the flu and makes you less likely to end up in the hospital if you do get it.
Terrified of needles? The shot and the nasal spray are equally protective.
6. Actually wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
You don’t need to get fancy — just regular bar or liquid soap is best, Dr. Patrick Neustatter, author of Managing Your Doctor, tells BuzzFeed Life. And if you can’t get to a sink, hand sanitizers work, too. In hospital settings, they’ve been shown to be as effective as washing with soap and water, says Neustatter.
So lather up before you eat, after you use the bathroom, and basically any time you touch something questionable. And scrub all over for a good 20 seconds before rinsing off (or as long as it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice).
7. And try not to touch that door handle right after you washed your hands.
If you can avoid touching high-traffic germy areas just after you disinfect, that would be best, says Neustatter. Try the old paper towel trick instead.
8. Seriously cut back on alcohol.
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“Alcohol tends to be an immunosuppressant and it will just generally run you down,” says Neustratter. Yes, this is a lot to ask of someone who will be dealing with crowded airports, awkward holiday parties, and stressful family gatherings. But this is one thing you can actually do that’ll lower your risk of getting sick. So, you know, do what you will with this.
9. Disinfect the airline tray table with an antibacterial wipe.
Delta / Via Casey Gueren
Some research shows that it’s actually the germiest place on the plane. So it’s not a bad idea to swipe it with an antibacterial wipe when you sit down, says Neustatter. Might want to get the arm rests and seat belt too while you’re at it.
10. And sure, why not, maybe wear a mask if that’ll make you feel better.
The research on how effective it actually is to wear a mask is limited, but it’s not a horrible idea, says Sanford. If nothing else, it’ll at least stop you from touching your face, which is a major way that people transfer bacteria from the environment to their eyes, nose, mouth, etc.
11. And if it’s acceptable to do so, stay far away from sick people. Like, get up and actually move.
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Most germs are spread through the air or through touching, so the farther you stay away from infected people, the better. The good news is that the air filters on planes can actually filter out some of those germs, so you don’t have to be too concerned about the person coughing and sneezing 10 rows behind you. But if your seatmate is the one covered in phlegm, you’re way more likely to pick that up — especially if you’re seated next to them for a long period of time, says Sanford.
If you can’t move away from a coughing passenger or party guest, just make sure to wash your hands thoroughly (and often) and avoid touching your face. You could also ask them to wear a mask, but…we’re guessing that won’t go over well.
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