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Flu and steps to protect yourself this winter

Winter, a time for marshmallows roasting on an open fire, sleigh bells, hot cocoa and yes, the dreaded flu. The flu, which can last for days or weeks can include symptoms such as fever, chills, runny nose, fatigue and body aches. But experts suggest that even if you receive the flu shot there are some smart steps you can take to ensure you avoid this annoying and potentially deadly illness this winter season.

According to Dr. Roshini Raj, a TODAY contributor and gastroenterologist at New York University Medical Center, there are several things that individuals do each day that may actually increase their risk of getting the flu.

What is the first thing you need to do? Dr. Roshini Raj suggests that anyone who is relying solely on antibacterial hand gels to kills viruses should also be washing their hands. The truth is washing your hands with soap is the most effective way to kill the bacteria and viruses which can make you sick.

What if you can’t get to a sink? The antibacterial gels can be effective, but they should consist of least 60 percent alcohol, ethanol or isopropanol, and you should rub your hands together vigorously after applying the gel.

How to effectively wash your hands

Unfortunately, experts also note that while many people do wash their hands a sufficient number of times throughout the day, especially after using the restroom, and before eating or cooking food, but they are not doing it long enough. Dr. Roshini Raj suggests the optimal time is at least 20 seconds, using soap and hot water.

Another risk experts warn about is spending too much time working out in a gym with other athletes. Not only can this expose you to germs and bacteria, if you are not allowing enough time to recover after each work out, you may also be adding additional stress on your body, depressing your immune system, and increasing the likelihood that you might contract an infection.

Experts do note, however, that getting the proper amount of exercise can help strengthen your immune system. They suggest that the key is to hydrate properly, not over-extend yourself and let your body adequate time to recover.

What is reasonable amount of exercise? Dr. Roshini Raj suggests working out regularly, but if you have not previously worked out, it’s important to start slowly. For example, the doctor recommends working out for no more than 30 minutes per day for five to seven days a week. The doctor also recommends maintaining a structured sleep schedule and to stop exercising if you feel “weakness, dizziness, joint pain or muscle ache.”

Smoking can make you more susceptible to the flu

Finally, the doctor suggests quitting smoking, which can decrease the activity of cilia, the hair-like projections in the nose and lungs that help sweep out germs.

What about avoiding the cold? Experts say cold weather has nothing to do with getting the flu. What could increase your chances of getting the flu? Staying inside with your family and friends and breathing and coughing on each other.
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