How to stay healthy this flu season

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As we see a flattening of the curve of coronavirus in Australia, we’re now about to face our age-old nemesis: the dreaded flu season. While dealing with the stress of adapting to new ways of work and play as temperatures drop, how do we gear up to fight the flu and maintain good health?

We spoke to Dr Kieran Kennedy about the best ways to stay healthy as we move into the chillier months.

Prioritise sleep
Getting your 40 winks is the first tip, and for good reason. Research suggests that adequate sleep (on average seven to nine hours for adults) is beneficial to your mood and immune system, according to the Sleep Health Foundation. What’s more, one study published in the journal Sleep Health found that 33 to 45 per cent of Australian adults reported that a lack of sleep was adversely affecting how they function during the day. 

It’s important to consistently clock up at least seven hours of shut-eye per night, and to also have regular sleep and wake times. Sleep grounds your mind, which can help to balance your mood and combat anxiety, says Dr Kennedy. Your bed should be for sleep and sex only, so make sure Netflix, your laptop and your phone are left outside the boudoir door.

Stay active
Exercise has been linked to a reduction of a number of health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure levels. A healthier life also leads to a healthier state of mind, with exercise helping with depression and anxiety, acting as a mood-stabiliser and improving sleep patterns (cue tip #1). The Australian Heart Foundation recommends doing a minimum of 2.5-5 hours of moderate intensity (or equivalent) physical activity each week.

As we age, we experience a reduction in our immune response to infections, which is why older adults are more susceptible to respiratory infections such as the flu, coronavirus and pneumonia. Regular exercise is one part of leading a healthy lifestyle that can help to strengthen your immune system and build your body’s defense against pathogens that cause infection and disease, according to Harvard Medical School. 

With gyms still closed, it’s important to continue to find ways to stay active. If you’re not lucky enough to have a home gym, try mixing up your exercise regimen with a combo of long walks, HIIT sessions, at-home yoga and bodyweight workouts. In the highly-digitised world that we live in, we’re not left short of access to a variety of workouts on the ‘gram and YouTube. 

Maintain a healthy diet
It’s easy enough to fall out of your normal routine while at home, but maintaining a balanced diet and regular meal times will help keep your immune system strong. There’s many ways to curb post-iso cravings and take control of your eating habits, including keeping a food journal and avoiding restrictive diets. What’s more, eating well and eating regularly will help to combat anxiety and boredom (which often leads to overeating and an overconsumption of alcohol), says Dr Kennedy.

He advises incorporating plenty of fruit and veg into your diet. Try this tasty veggie-packed pasta.

Practise mindfulness
With many of us experiencing an increased amount of alone-time and having to constantly adapt to change, stress and anxiety is ripe, so there’s no better time to incorporate mindfulness into your day-to-day life. 

If sitting on a cliff-top in your harem pants and meditating for hours on-end sounds less than enticing, don’t stop reading just yet. Studies have shown that as little as two minutes of consistent mindfulness exercises each day can have major physical and mental health benefits, says Dr Kennedy.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with worry and negative thoughts, simple gratitude practises can alter your mindset to focus more on the positives. Dr Kennedy recommends writing down four things you are thankful for each day. Breathing techniques can also help to ease your mind – try the Calm app for a guide to meditation, less stress and better sleep.

Make time for socialising
Medical research links social contact with both mental and physical health, says Dr Kennedy. Some of this is related to physical touch and closeness, which many of us might be lacking during this time.

Pencil in some form of social activity into your weekly schedule – whether it be one-on-one, in a small group or virtually. Sunday brunch with the girls still not an option in your State? Catch up via Zoom instead and discuss (and plan) all the cafes you can’t wait to go back to once they reopen. Strong social connections and conversations – in any form – are beneficial to your health, says Dr Kennedy.