With temperatures set to plummet this weekend and weather forecasters warning of snow, the nation's minds will shift to two things: a) how to avoid slipping over on the ice and b) how to protect yourself against viruses.
In winter, cases of cold and flu increase. Experts believe this could be because, when it's chilly, we're all often crowded indoors together and both viruses are highly contagious, spreading easily through coughs and sneezes.
If you're anything like HuffPost UK Lifestyle you'll want to protect yourself against colleagues with runny noses and people sneezing next to you on the bus.
Seeing as not all of us are eligible for the NHS magical flu jab, you'll be pleased to know that there are some natural ways to ward off nasty cold and flu viruses.
Here are 10 ways to boost your immune system and help keep the sniffles at bay.
There may be no more promoted solution to avoiding the flu this year (besides the flu shot, of course) than diligent hand washing. As many as 80 percent of infections are transmitted via contact like sneezing, coughing or touching surfaces that have been sneezed or coughed on, says Tierno, and then touching "your mouth, eyes or nose, which are the conduits of viruses into the body." He recommends scrubbing before eating, drinking or touching your face, and disinfecting shared surfaces in the home (like the bathroom) and the office, like phones, computers and fridge door handles.
While you're off in dreamland, your body gets to work repairing cells and injuries you may have incurred during the normal day's wear and tear, says Tierno. Getting your seven to nine hours a night means your body can repair and heal itself and ward off infections. "If you don't get the appropriate sleep, that system is not operating and you're on a steady decline over time," he says.
In fact, skimping on sleep is as disruptive to the immune system as stress
, according to a 2012 study. And earlier research suggested that sleep patterns may play a role in a gene that helps fight off bacteria and viruses.
Getting your blood pumping regularly can increase the activity of a type of white blood cells
that attacks viruses. Shoot for an hour a day, says Tierno -- but not necessarily all at once. "Even if it's walking around the office, up stairs, down stairs, to and from work -- it doesn't have to be continuous," he says.
Getting the proper amount of the right nutrients and minerals as part of a healthy diet "leaves the body in optimal condition to fight the battle," says Tierno. This means cutting back on sugary, fatty foods and upping your intake of vegetables, fruit and lean protein, he says. One of those nutrients that gets a particularly healthy reputation during cold and flu season is zinc, and for good reason. "Zinc interferes with viruses gaining full access to our cells," he says. "Zinc may block certain metabolic activity." While it's not the end-all cure
, foods rich in zinc, like oysters
and wheat germ
, may offer some protection.
The anti-microbial properties of this pungent bulb (and its relative, the onion) can fight off certain bacteria and viruses, says Tierno, as can the compounds in other herbs and spices
, like thyme.
It's likely due to the compound allicin, which seems to block infections
. Try it in your next bowl of soothing chicken soup!
Thankfully, most of us are inhabiting cozy-warm homes this winter, but those cranking radiators come with a downside. Indoor winter air is much dryer than our bodies would like. Without sufficient moisture, says Tierno, "immune system cells can't optimally work," so it's important to stay hydrated. (A humidifier can also help
Alcohol suppresses both the part of the immune system
that protects you from coming down with something and the part that fights off the germs already in your system, so knocking a few too many back can put you at increased risk for catching the bug going around -- and having trouble kicking it.
A positive attitude can take you far -- even, maybe, to age 100
. But along the way, a life of laughter and optimism could also help you sniffle through fewer bouts of the flu or colds. While there's much that's still not well understood about the process, it seems that certain immune cells are produced
by a big belly laugh, says Tierno.
A favorite solution for de-stressing
, massage can also help you stay physically healthy. While there's been little research into exactly how it works
, massage certainly increases circulation, which may help promote the general "state of wellness in the body," says Tierno. "Nutrients are passed around better, the blood flow is better," he says. "It's a very useful thing to get a massage."
A 1999 study found that getting frisky a couple of times a week can boost immunoglobin A
, an antibody that fights off colds. Just make sure your partner isn't already sick!