Approved by the What’s Up Moms Medical Advisory Board
As a mom of three children three and under, just the thought of winter viruses brings a particular sigh of exhaustion to my heart. Just as I know that the upcoming winter season will fill my clinic waiting room, I know that our home, too, will be visited with our fair share of fevers and coughs in coming months. SO… these are my favorite evidence-based, tried-and-true tips for helping to keep kids (and families) healthy through winter — with fewer illnesses and fewer days of missed school.
Rinse those noses.
Most viral illnesses start out by replicating in the nose before spreading to the rest of the body, so targeting the nose is a surprisingly effective way to keep those germs from developing into a full-blown illness. A nasal saline (basically saltwater) can be purchased over-the-counter. You can use a nasal spray (probably the easiest for kids) or do it neti pot-style. A daily nasal saline rinse throughout the winter season has been shown in some studies to reduce the frequency of colds and flu by about 50%!
Keep the air humid.
Viruses travel much more freely in dry air than in humid air, so keeping the air humid can prevent viruses from spreading. One study randomized daycare centers so that half of them had humidifiers throughout winter and the other half didn’t; the half with humidifiers cut the frequency of colds and influenza by about 60% (made me wonder if it would be weird for me to buy holiday gifts of humidifiers for all my kids teachers??). I tend to use our humidifier when my children are sick. But this study makes a great case for keeping that humidifier on as a preventative measure throughout the winter nights.
Keep your gut bacteria healthy.
Probiotics are one way to help ensure that healthy bacteria are lining your gut and ready to add an extra layer of defense against germs. One meta-analysis showed that using probiotics reduced the number of upper respiratory tract infections (colds) by about 47% and shortened their duration by almost two days. Eating fermented and pickled foods is another way to do this naturally and keep that gut biome in best working order.
Keep warm, (kinda, but not exactly) like Grandma said.
This one’s a little controversial. You don’t directly catch a cold by being cold. But Grandma had a point when she told you to put your coat on. Viruses do travel more freely in cold air, and it seems to be true that cold body temperatures suppress the immune system, making you more vulnerable to infection. So go ahead and wear those socks at night. And (sigh), it’s worth the battle to get your kids to wear their jackets on those colder winter days.
Be specific about which vitamins you take.
There are MANY supplements that promise to boost your immune system, but for a quick-and-dirty breakdown of which are backed by evidence on this front, focus on these vitamins: Vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc and echinacea. Anti-inflammatory foods such as turmeric, olive oil and berries are also packed with vitamins that can help boost your body’s defenses.
Seriously, tho: Wash your hands.
OK, so this one’s not rocket science. But time and again, studies show that washing hands regularly — especially prior to eating — can substantially reduce the likelihood of getting sick. (Technically, the right amount of hand-washing time is to have kids sing “Happy Birthday” 2x while scrubbing with soap the whole time. Personally, I count it a win if we got soap all over the hands and fingers before the kids start playing with the water.)
Get your flu shot!
This won’t do anything to prevent the common cold, but it will certainly decrease your chances of getting influenza, which is no small deal.
Of course, in addition to these tips, maintaining the basics of a healthy lifestyle is also key to keeping that immune system in optimal health. That’s more sleep, more exercise, a healthy diet and less stress. Those four things will keep you and your family healthier and happier, no matter the season.