Have you ever missed a special event due to a winter cold or the flu? Many of us have, and when we do, we often wonder if we could have prevented it. Did you know that the common cold─the leading cause of doctor visits in the United States─is responsible for the loss of 189 million school days annually? In fact, Americans contract approximately 1 billion colds in the course of a single year!(1)

Seasonal colds and flu are so common, they almost seem like the norm, but illness is by no means normal. Our bodies are miraculous organisms that continually seek a state of health, but they can’t always combat the assaults of our modern lifestyles, such as poor nutrition, high stress levels, stronger and more persistent germs, and lack of sleep, among other factors. But you can go on the offense to protect your wellness with these clever tactics:

Wash hands often

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, frequent hand washing is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Plain soap and water is best, since anti-bacterial soaps are no more effective, and contain potentially dangerous chemicals like triclosan, which has been banned in UK supermarkets.

Incorporate immune-boosting nutrients and herbs

Many nutrients and herbs can help bolster your immune system, and when taken at the onset of a cold, can often nip it in the bud, or at least shorten the duration. These include vitamins A and C, zinc, and selenium, as well as herbs like echinacea,(2) eleuthero, which is also called Siberian ginseng,(3) astragalus,(4) Reishi mushroom,(5) and garlic,(6) among others. Many of these natural remedies are exponentially more effective when taken in combination.

Enjoy soothing sleep

Multiple studies have found that lack of sleep promotes chronic inflammation and diminishes immune health.(7) Before reaching for potentially habit forming sleeping pills, however, consider natural sleep aids like L-tryptophan. This amino acid is a precursor for melatonin—a hormone that plays a crucial role in human sleep patterns. L-tryptophan is also the primary building block for the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that boosts your sense of well being and promotes healthy sleep.(8)

Hydrate like an athlete

We’ve long been advised to power down the fluids when we’re sick. So why not flip that, and hydrate generously to prevent illness before it gains a foothold? While you strive for those 8 daily glasses, cuddling up with herbal teas and clear soups counts too, as does consuming fresh produce with a high water volume, like lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. Aim for an extra glass of water for every cup of coffee, soda, or alcoholic beverage you consume.

Get fresh & active

Frosty temperatures keep many people home and/or office bound most of their waking hours, often in sealed, heated rooms which can act as an incubator for germs. So, why not brave the elements and venture out a bit—with your kids, dog, or solo with your Ipod? Even a brisk walk can boost immune health, partly by reducing inflammation. You don’t have to overdo it, moderate exercise is very effective in reducing infection and illness, as long as you’re consistent with it.(9)

This doesn’t have to be “the winter of your discontent.” Rather, with these wellness-boosting solutions, it can be the winter of your dreams. Enjoy it in good health!

1 Altern Med Rev. 2007 Mar;12(1):25-48
2 Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(2):CD000530.
3 Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:673145.
4 Integr Cancer Ther. 2003 Sep;2(3):247-67.
5 J Pharmacol Sci. 2005 Oct;99(2):144-53
6 Can Fam Physician. 2011 Jan;57(1):31-6
7 Sleep Med Rev. 2011 Aug 9. [Epub ahead of print] 8 Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2010 Mar;34(3):387-407.
9 J Appl Physiol. 2007 Aug;103(2):693-9. Epub 2007 Feb 15.