HEALTH

6 Ways to Support Your Immune System + Minimize Germs

March 20th, 2020

Building up a strong immune system is always top of mind during cold and flu season—but even more so this year with the rise of COVID-19 infections. While there are supplements you can take and disinfecting cleaning products you can buy, the most effective ways to bolster immunity are through simple, daily habits. Below, we dive into six easy ways you can minimize your exposure to everyday germs and support your immune system.

Wash Your Hands the Right Way

Yes, there’s a right way to wash your hands, and according to this study, proper hand hygiene reduces the odds of getting the flu and other respiratory illnesses by 54%. It’s definitely worth getting your technique down. Experts recommend people vigorously rub all areas of their hands—including the backs of the hands and in between the fingers—with soap and warm water for a full 20 seconds. Dry hands with a hand dryer or single-use paper towel instead of a reusable hand towel, which may harbor dirt and bacteria.

You don’t even need antibacterial hand soap for this practice to be effective. “Following simple handwashing practices is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness at home, at school and elsewhere,” says Theresa M. Michele, MD, of the FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Drug Products.

Knowing when to wash your hands is almost as important as knowing how. As a general rule, lather up:

  • After using the bathroom
  • Before and after eating
  • After touching surfaces that haven’t been disinfected
  • After sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose
  • Before touching your eyes or mouth (such as removing corrective lenses or flossing)
  • After being in contact with someone who has been coughing or sneezing

Exercise Awareness

Regular exercise is important for staying healthy, but gyms can be a breeding ground for germs. When possible, take your workout outside. Hit the beach, a local trail, or explore a new neighborhood to get your heart pumping. It could also be a good time to try a few streaming services to see if at-home workouts work for you. If these aren’t an option, or you can’t bear to skip your favorite hot yoga class, don’t worry, just follow these simple hygiene tips:

  • Wipe everything down. If your gym provides antibacterial spray or wipes, use them on machines, shared equipment, mats, and locker room surfaces. If your gym doesn’t provide these wipes, stock up on to-go packages of wipes or a hand sanitizer that you can use before, during, and after your workout.
  • Protect your feet. Locker rooms, steam rooms, and showers can be really dirty. Wear flip-flops and shower shoes when walking around.
  • Bring your own supplies to the gym, including towels. Cover mats, exercise balls, and light dumbbells with hand towels. You can mark the side that’s being used on these surfaces, so you know which is the “dirty” side.

Get Enough Sleep

One of the best ways to support your immune system is to make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night. How much sleep is enough? It depends on your age:

Adults: Seven to eight hours
Teens: Eight to 10 hours
School-aged children: Nine to 12 hours
Preschoolers: 10 to 13 hours
Toddlers: 11 to 14 hours
Babies: 12 to 16 hours

If you have trouble falling asleep, setting yourself up for a good night’s sleep starts well before bedtime. If you’re used to having caffeinated drinks in the afternoon, try skipping it for a week to see if it helps you get to sleep faster. The average person can feel the effects of caffeine for four to six hours after that first sip. Next, keep electronics (cell phones, tablets, laptops) outside of your bedroom an hour or two before bedtime to avoid blue light exposure. You may also want to consider incorporating natural supplements such as melatonin and magnesium into your nighttime routine.

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated throughout the day is key to feeling your best. It’s especially important during cold and flu season because water helps carry nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, and helps prevent dehydration if you’re experiencing a fever, diarrhea, or vomiting. Water is best, but beverages like herbal teas and cold-pressed juices can also help you get to the recommended daily intake of four to six cups a day. Also be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables—especially ones that are high in water content, like celery, tomatoes, and melons.

Wipe Down Your Electronics

Most of us are touching cell phones, tablets, laptops, steering wheels, and water bottles throughout the day, so it’s important to regularly clean them.

However, you should avoid disinfectant wipes or common household cleaners for your electronic devices. Why? Most have an “oleophobic coating” that’s used to keep screens fingerprint- and moisture-free. The best way to clean devices without damaging the coating is to use a slightly damp, lint-free cloth with a drop of soap applied directly to the cloth. Keep the suds to a minimum as too many could cause permanent damage to your device that rice cannot fix. Another major way to minimize your devices’ germ exposure is to avoid bringing them everywhere—especially to the gym and in the bathroom. As a bonus, you’ll be getting less screen time, too.

For your laptop or computer, use disinfectant wipes that do not contain bleach, which can damage the finish on your keyboard. We recommend these wipes from Seventh Generation get the job done. Use these wipes on your steering wheel, car door handle, the subway rail and other transportation-related surfaces, too.

Make sure you’re disinfecting these surfaces at least once or twice a day. Needless to say, we’ll be putting “wipe down” reminders in our phones now.

Use the Sanitation Cycle on Dishwashers + Washing Machines

Sanitation cycles on dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers often use more water and require more energy to heat the water so we advise using them only when you really need to. If you’ve been around someone who’s feeling sick or have spent time in highly-trafficked areas during the day, it’s probably a good idea to use them, but you can probably skip it on work-from-home days. And those towels you brought to the gym? Definitely throw those in the sanitation pile.

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Lily CombaLily Comba has never met a baked good she didn't like. When she's not baking, you'll find her writing, taking a Pilates class, or collaborating with the editorial and social team as a Senior Content Writer at Thrive Market.