Stay Well Naturally

Winter is upon us, and along with it comes the debate on whether to get a flu shot. Dr. Martha Howard of Wellness Associates of Chicago offers advice to protect yourself from the flu, vaccine free.

woman washing hands

Keep hands clean

This is a no-brainer, yet how often do you actually wash your hands each day? "The No. 1 way to prevent getting sick is simple: Wash your hands frequently," says Howard, the medical director of Wellness Associates of Chicago. "Non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also great." She recommends CleanWell.

More natural anti-bacterial soaps to try >>

tissue boxSneeze wisely

"When you sneeze, if you do not have a tissue handy, sneeze into the crook of your elbow, not into your hand," Howard advises. You teach your kids to do this, so practice what you preach.

Don't infect yourself

As tough as it may be, train yourself not to touch your nose or eyes, except with a clean tissue. "One of the common entry points for bacteria or viruses is the eyes," Howard explains. "It is especially hazardous if you touch a surface like the hand-rail of an escalator and then rub your eyes."

More ways to guard your health >>

Take vitamin C

Howard recommends taking 500 milligrams of vitamin C every four hours throughout the day, with plenty of water. This is especially true if you're taking chewables. "Be sure to drink at least six to eight ounces of water when you take one." She recommends staying well hydrated to help prevent flu, as well.

How to get enough vitamin C >>

Go natural

According to Howard, elderberry is a known natural flu fighter. A study published in the Online Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacokinetics conducted during the 2009 flu season showed that 28 percent of flu sufferers who took 175 milligrams of elderberry extract were completely symptom free in 48 hours.

Natural remedies for everyday ailments >>

Clean up your lifestyle

Even if you have a superfood-packed diet, if you're smoking or drinking, you're putting yourself at risk of illness. Stop smoking and cut down on alcohol, Howard encourages. Make sure you exercise every day — this can help boost your immune system as well as give you something to do if you're looking to replace negative habits.

10 Tasty ways to boost your immune system >>

appleEat fresh

When it comes to your diet, eat five to six servings (a serving is a half-cup) of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, and get at least four ounces of protein.

Top 10 healthiest vegetables >>

Relax

There's never been a better time to kick your feet up! Carve out 20 minutes every day to just relax and let stress go. "High stress levels mean high cortisol levels, which will suppress your immune system," says Howard. "On the other hand, relaxation has been shown to speed the release of interleukins, the 'lead fighters' in the immune response to flu."

How to relax, recharge and stress less >>

Regardless of how diligent you are in your efforts to fend off the flu, understand that you may still get it. If you do, be sure to stay home and take care of yourself. This will also keep you from putting the health of others at risk.

More women's health tips

6 Steps to keep your home germ-free
Cold and flu-fighting tips to stay well this winter
Eat to sail through cold and flu season unscathed

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