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Health tips for winter

Meld Magazine

Thu Jun 23 2011


AS THE days get colder and it takes more effort to get out of bed in the morning, most of us might feel like hibernating until the sun comes back and the temperature lifts above freezing. But alas, life still has to go on. Meld reporter Joyce Ho offers some tips on staying happy and healthy in winter.

Keeping the bugs away

Contrary to popular belief, cold and flus are not caused by a sudden change in the weather that affects our immune system. Scientists believe the spike in the number of flu cases during winter is instead due to the fact that people stay inside more, which increases disease spread. Germs can live up to two hours or longer on any indoor surface. So  shared common areas become a breeding ground for germs, as do tables, phones, doorknobs, coins, elevator buttons, books and microwaves.

To safeguard against the flu, always wash your hands throughly and try not to touch your face too much. While this might sound extreme, 15 minutes of careful scrubbing or a squeeze of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer every once in a while is far better than missing that all important exam or class because you’re stuck in bed sick.

Staying fit and healthy

Not geting enough exercise during the colder months can also weaken your immune system. Whether you’re the sporty type or not, you should try to exercise at least three times a week. The activity is up to you and it doesn’t have to be anything too difficult. Doing a few laps at an indoor swimming pool, trying a bit of yoga or working out on the treadmill are all great ways to stay fit without having to brave the cold.

Keeping a balance diet is another important way to protect yourself from a cold or flu. If you know your diet isn’t the best, an added dose of vitamin C or zinc tablets might help, but it’s important to remember that vitamin supplements are never as good as the natural stuff – fresh fruits and vegetables. Whether it’s winter or not, you should always make sure to eat at least five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit a day.

If you’re eating healthy and exercising, but still want some added protection, you could consider getting vaccinated. Vaccines are available from your local GP and can cost anywhere between $25 and $30. The earlier you get the shot though, the better, as it can take up to two weeks before your body starts developing the necessary antibodies to protect you. The vaccine should then last the entire year, so you can be rest assured that the nasties won’t get to you while you’re taking on that final paper. That said, the vaccine isn’t a get out of jail free card. It doesn’t protect you from all colds and flus, so it’s important to still follow the above tips.

I’m sick, now what?

If you do find yourself with a runny nose, persistent cough, headache and that ‘chilly’ sensation, then congratulations, you have just ‘gone viral’. While we use the two terms interchangeably, the cold and the flu are not the same thing.  The key difference is that a cold only affects the nasal and throat passages, while the flu may include other symptoms like a fever, body aches and extreme tiredness. As a general rule, the flu also tends to make you feel intensely ill, while someone with a cold might still be able to go about their day, albeit at a slower pace.

Over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays, throat lozenges, paracetamol and herbal teas can help relieve some of the symptoms of a cold or flu, but won’t be strong enough to cure you. The only reliable cure come from getting sufficient sleep, drinking plenty of water and allowing your body enough time to recuperate. Try to avoid antibotics, unless you suffer from respiratory problems like asthma or are still sick after a week. In most cases, antibiotics are not only pointless, but can also weaken your immune system, making your more susceptible to colds and flus in the future.

If you don’t feel significantly better after a week, make an appointment with your nearest GP. The OSHC clinic on Cardigan Street offers free consultations, while other clinics might charge up to $20 for a check up. Check out the OSHC website for your nearest clinic.

Fighting the Cold War

Melbourne is home to more than 400,000 international students, many of whom travel back and forth between 140 nations. This makes the city very prone to epidemics like the 2009 swine flu. To stop history from repeating itself, try to avoid crowded places and always maintain good hygiene practices.

Wearing a clinical mask when you go outdoors might not be much of a fashion statement, but it will definitely work as a protective barrier against flus and colds. Disposable paper masks can be bought in pharmacies and should be changed every eight hours, or when they become moist. For the mask to work properly, make sure it covers your nose and mouth and is securely strapped at the back of your head.

If you follow these simple steps, you can be sure to avoid the dreaded cold or flu and be mentally and physically prepared for exams, and for the vacation afterwards!