By: Judah Schulman  | 

The Bottom Line in Health: How to Beat the Winter Bug

By: Judah Schulman

As another winter break concludes and the spring semester begins, it is important to keep in mind that we are still in the heart of the New York winter.  Despite the warm places many of you may have been for winter break, the temperatures still remain low in the Big Apple. The cold weather and lack of sunshine that occur during the winter have a considerable impact on our well-being, so we need to take certain measures to manage our health. Forgetting about the frigid temperatures over the next few months can lead to runny noses, sore throats, and a spectrum of other aches and pains. To help you stay on your feet and moving, here are a number of steps you can take to stay ahead of the nippy weather and in peak condition.

Getting the appropriate amount of sleep each night is essential to keeping your mind and body in a positive state. On average, people sleep six hours a night, which is just below the recommended seven to nine hours. Creating a sleep debt makes your body highly vulnerable to illness, because it weakens your body’s defense mechanisms. Consider your body as a machine and sleep as the charger for your machine. If you do not recharge your body with enough sleep, it will not function optimally. We all know too well how quickly the semester can become hectic and how fast the work can pile on, making it difficult to get enough sleep. Having said that, it is often more beneficial to get a little more snooze time than trying to push your body day after day on minimal sleep.

In addition to charging your body with sleep, it is crucial during the winter to give your body the appropriate fuel. When it is cold and dark outside, it can be tempting to fill up on comfort foods and drinks. However, you need to make sure your body is receiving the necessary nutrients to protect itself from the cold temperatures and germs that thrive during the winter season. Eating fruits that contain vitamin C, such as oranges, kiwis, and grapefruits, will give your immune system the valuable support it needs. Also include in your diet dark green vegetables such as kale, spinach, and other leafy vegetables that contain minerals like iron and vitamins A, C, K, and folate. Eating foods that contain vitamin D is also important during the winter. This is because most of the vitamin D we get comes from exposure to sunlight. During the winter, when the cold temperatures keep most people indoors and the hours of daylight are few, it is easy to miss out on this valuable, disease-fighting vitamin. Adding a glass of milk to your morning routine is a simple way to boost your intake of vitamin D, and provide your body with other essential nutrients such as calcium, protein, and vitamin C.
Another simple way to keep up your health during the cold months is by including at least thirty minutes of moderate to intense exercise in your daily routine. Working out does not have to be painful and boring! Try to find an activity that you enjoy and gets your heart pumping or consider joining a competitive sports league with some friends. Regular exercise will help you control your weight, boost your immune system, and minimize stress. Because high levels of stress have been linked to increased susceptibility to sickness, by reducing your stress levels, your body can focus on warding off winter season germs and bugs.

One last area of health concern to consider as we begin the spring semester is our hygiene. Every year, people get two to four serious colds, and twenty percent of people get the flu. With colder temperatures, we tend to spend more time with sneezing strangers and coughing colleagues who are handing out their germs for free. Unfortunately, many of the places where we spend time such as communal bathrooms and showers, library tables, classrooms, door handles, and railings, are breeding grounds for cold and flu viruses. Furthermore, the primary courier of germs are your hands. To keep these germs out of your system, taking small measures such as using the Purell dispensers around the school and washing your hands regularly can have a dramatic impact on your well being. While this tip may seem obvious, it is one of the most basic, yet commonly ignored practices that can help you maintain your health. Scrub your hands with soap for a minimum of ten seconds when washing, and make sure to cover both sides; germs are not allergic to the backside of your hands!

Even though winter break is over and many of us have been vacationing somewhere on a beach, we must be vigilant about our health as we begin the new semester. Do not let the cold, dark months of the winter slow you down by getting you sick and unhappy. Be proactive about your health in the coming months, and take care of yourself so you can remain successful in your daily activities and avoid becoming a liability to your friends, peers, rabbis, and professors!

A Note on the Author: The Bottom Line in Health seeks to provide simple fitness and nutrition tips for the Yeshiva University community. As a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness and Nutrition Specialist, it is my goal to enhance the readers’ understanding of how to maintain a healthy standard of living while improving performance in and out of school and supporting an overall sense of well-being.