As the long, cold days of winter set in, so do germs and viruses. In the United States, flu season begins in October and ends in May, usually peaking in February. This is bad news for students, as it runs parallel to the school year. Rather than living in a bubble for a few months of the year, taking a few precautions can increase your chances of getting through the school year on a healthy note.
• Wash your hands: Simple as it sounds, it is an easy way to dodge the flu. The virus can live on some surfaces for as long as 48 hours. The flu can be spread by touching your eyes or mouth after touching a contaminated object, or by shaking hands with someone carrying the virus. Washing your hands or using an alcohol based hand sanitizer often is a great way to stop the spread of the virus.
• Get some sleep: A lack of sleep suppresses our immune system's ability to function properly and fight off illness. The amount of sleep each individual needs varies, but eight hours is the recommended amount for most. It is also important that sleep is uninterrupted in order for your body to complete the sleep cycle. About thirty minutes prior to bed, turn off electronic devices and try sipping a hot cup of tea which will allow your mind to begin the wind-down process.
• Eat a well-balanced diet: As a student, it can be hard to find and remember to eat the proper amount of fruits and vegetables every day. Always on the go, it is easier and cheaper to eat fatty, convenient foods. Planning is key, especially on a trip to the grocery store. Try to shop the aisles on the perimeter, as that is where most of the fresh foods are located. The center aisles hold the foods that tend to be packed with preservatives. On the weekend, take ten minutes and plan your meals for the week, even if it includes packed lunches. Splurging every once in a while is fine, but if you get into the daily habit, it can be very hard on your body to process.
• Take time for yourself: Between class, school activities, work, family, and friends, there isn't much time left for you. However, it is important to find a way to de-stress your system by doing what you enjoy, even if only for short periods of time.
• A little bit of exercise goes a long way: If you have the time to go to the gym, by all means, go! However, most students are busy juggling numerous priorities and simply don't have time. It's easy to incorporate exercise into your day. Take the stairs rather than the elevator. Park your car further away from the building. Walk the dog around the block. All of these simple ways to get your body moving will help keep your immune system strong.
Going to school during the flu season is almost unavoidable. However, it is not impossible to go through it without catching the flu. If you do end up with influenza, minimize risk of contaminating classmates by staying home. Upon the onset of symptoms, the virus can be contagious for up to seven days. Stay in touch with your instructors during this time, doing what you can to not fall far behind in class.