8 Ways to Boost Your Immune System When the Kids Go Back to School

Aug 27, 2018 at 8:00 a.m. ET
Three children, one in middle is blowing nose
Image: Jacquie Boyd/Getty Images, Frithyboy/Getty Images. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

It's back-to-school time. While this means getting back to learning and reconnecting with friends, parents everywhere know that kids are basically walking garbage cans, and schools are where they gather close together and spend hours of time sharing their space — and their germs.

Of course, they then come home and happily share their germs with the rest of the family, including their parents. So, how can parents boost their immune systems and prevent themselves from getting sick when the kids go back to school? Here are some top tips for boosting your immunity.

Wash your hands

When it doubt, wash your hands.

"Wash your hands as often as possible for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap," Dr. Kristine Arthur, an internist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SheKnows. 

While washing hands is mostly about keeping germs out of your body, it's still a super-important habit to get into as fall and winter roll around, and if you can keep those germs away, you'll be way better off when your kids start bringing viruses home, she says. 

More: Turns Out, We're All Terrible at Washing Our Hands

Change your work habits

Moving around more while you work (especially if your job is sedentary) can help your overall general health and can keep your immune system in tip-top shape, Arthur says. She suggests squeezing in a walk as often as you can, parking farther away from your building and taking the stairs. 

"If you are able to stand up while typing, try to do it as much as possible, as studies show that prolonged sitting every day can be as bad for you as smoking," she explains. 

Eat more zinc-containing foods

Dr. Christopher Hollingsworth, a surgeon at NYC Surgical Associates, suggests adding a few vital nutrients to get your immune system at its best. 

"Oysters are very high in zinc, which is utilized extensively by your body to produce all the biochemicals needed to fight infection," he tells SheKnows. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent snack food that is high in zinc and in antioxidants — and taste great toasted and salted, he adds.

More: Are Your Cold Symptoms Actually Allergies?

Exercise — but not too much

Physical activity can help boost your immune system, but excessive or repeated strenuous exercise can dampen your immune system, as shown in a study published in the European Journal of Sport Science in 2018.  

Garlic up your dinner

If you love garlic, your immune system is in luck. "Garlic influences your immune system to fight infection aggressively as well as reduce inflammation," Hollingsworth explains. 

Add more citrus to your shopping cart

Ah yes, that good old vitamin C. Turns out it's not only in some of your favorite foods, but it's excellent for your immune system.

"Vitamin C has long been associated with improved resistance to infection," says Hollingsworth. "The cells that gobble up bacteria in your body need vitamin C to function properly."

Keep your hands away from your face

Even just reading this will probably make you want to touch your face. But don't.

Emergency physician Dr. Chirag Shah tells SheKnows that we shouldn't touch our eyes or face throughout the day or at least wait until we have freshly washed hands and should teach our kids to do the same. 

"One good way to increase the risk of getting sick is touching something dripping with infectious droplets and then sticking the droplets right into your eyes or nose," he explains. Ick!

Decontaminate your kids

You don't really have to subject your kids to a decon shower, but Arthur suggests having your kids wash their hands immediately after coming home from school, and you might even consider having them change into clean clothes once they walk through the door. 

It seems inevitable that once your little germ magnets go back to school, they'll eventually bring home some germs to share with you and the rest of your family. While it's a good idea to keep the above tips in mind, frequent handwashing is so vital — especially before you sit down and eat food. 

So wash up, parents! And keep your kids on a steady diet of handwashing too. Hopefully, you'll keep those back-to-school germs far away. 

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