Disease prevention

Five keys to surviving flu season



Getting sick is one of the most powerful negative forces when it comes to derailing people’s fitness. This is especially true with something like the flu since it puts you out of commission for a week or more, and can massively upset any good habits you’ve established. My advice is a combination of personal experience, obsessive research, and “experimentation.”

Until about six years ago I used to get sick six to eight times a year. Necessity really is the mother of invention, because when I went back to school, got engaged and got a mortgage I had to figure out how to cut this sickness business out because I simply didn’t have the time to stay home or to feel like crap. I am very happy to say that I’ve only had to take time off work one time in the past six years. These five keys are working great for my team and me.

1. Vitamin D: One of the most interesting questions I’ve heard is, “Is influenza infection a sign of vitamin D deficiency as much as Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (a rare form of pneumonia that tends to only infect people with AIDS) is a sign of AIDS?” from Dr. John Cannell in a research paper on Influenza and vitamin D.

He says that you need your blood levels to be at a minimum of 50, preferably above 60. The amount of vitamin D a person needs to take varies, but it’s usually a minimum of 4,000 iu per day. I don’t believe that any of the other things on this list work without enough vitamin D.

2. Skip the OJ: Orange juice is often sold under the pretense that it will boost your immune system. It turns out that the opposite is probably true. Oranges and orange juice are not similar at all when it comes to nutrition — oranges are pretty healthy, but the juice is the nutritional equivalent of soda. Dumping a lot of sugar or any sort of refined carbohydrates into your system actually signals nap time for your white blood cells, which are the business end of your immune system. Refined carbohydrates of all sorts seem to do the same thing.

3. Sleep: As much as I personally wish there was some sort of substitute for sleep, there just isn’t. For most adults the bare minimum to be healthy, fit and lose fat seems to be six hours a night.

4. Train, don’t drain: Work hard, workout regularly, but remember that you are training with the goal of getting better in some way — stronger, thinner, etc. When you push to the point of feeling drained you actually slow down your results and suppress your immune system. From research it seems like the longer you work out the worse it is for your immune system. Try keeping things to an hour or less, and it’s probably a good idea to save your marathon running until after flu season.

5. Joy: Liking what you do and who you do it with has a huge impact on how happy you are and how well your immune system functions. If you spend most of your waking hours doing things you don’t really like and with people you don’t particularly care for, your health will suffer. There’s research on this going back to the 1940s. Try smiling.

Disclaimer: As always, don’t substitute this column for specific medical advice. If your doctor has given you some specific instructions that conflict with the above, do what he or she told you to do.

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