How to not get sick this winter, according to doctors

Keep yourself healthy this winter with these tips from doctors.

Mercey Livingston CNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
Mercey Livingston
5 min read
Getty Images

As the holidays approach and it gets closer to the end of the year, the last thing you want is to have the flu or a cold sideline you during this busy time. Besides holiday gatherings, parties and travel -- the end of the year can also mean you have a heavier workload as you rush to complete year-end deadlines. So what can you do to protect yourself when the season is busier (and people are getting sick) more than ever? 

Read More: The 6 essential cold and flu products you need whether you are sick or not

Besides getting some of the basics down (like washing your hands, cleaning properly and getting a flu shot) when it comes to preventing colds and flu this season, it's all about focusing on taking care of yourself and supporting immune health. 

Here are some tips from doctors to help boost your health and reduce your risk of getting sick this winter.

Read more: Is Googling your medical symptoms bad for your health?

Get enough sleep 


Sleep is essential for staying healthy and to help prevent catching a cold or flu.

Getty Images

Sleep is crucial for overall health, and that includes your immune system, which is your first line of defense this flu season. "The best way to avoid getting sick is to go into cold and flu season as healthy as possible. That means -- first and foremost -- getting enough sleep. Skipping out on regular sleep is one of the most common ways we run ourselves down," says Dr. Jaclyn Tolentino, a physician at Parsley Health Los Angeles

Read more: The best thermometers for cold and flu  

"Sleep is important for the immune system since your body starts to regulate itself when you're sleeping. And that's not going to happen if you're not getting good sleep," Tolentino said. So what can you do to improve your sleep quality if you're having trouble getting enough rest? 

Watch this: 3 ways to cover bright LED lights so you can sleep

Many people spend time on screens at night (i.e. TV screens, phone screens, computer screens), which can disrupt your sleep since blue light can keep your body from producing melatonin, an important hormone you need to sleep well. You can try limiting blue light exposure by wearing blue light blocking glasses at night, especially if you have to be on screens before bed. On the flipside, if you don't have trouble falling asleep but find yourself waking up throughout the night (which is just as bad) you can try several things from changing what you eat, getting a better mattress and pillows to adjusting the temperature in your room to help.

Eat healthy, nutritious foods 


Load up on veggies at every meal to help support your immune system.

Getty Images

Eating healthy can be particularly challenging at the end of the year, since many people are surrounded by rich food and tons of sweets around the holidays. But making sure you're eating the right foods can really help support your body and prevent you from catching a cold or other illness. "The immune system also lies within the gut, which is why it's good to optimize nutrition. Stay hydrated and eat a healthy, whole-food diet. Go heavy on the vegetables and try to avoid things like alcohol and processed sugars," Tolentino said. 

Important nutrients Tolentino recommends to focus on are vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. Foods that are rich in vitamin C include dark, leafy greens, citrus fruits, cauliflower and sweet potatoes. Omega-3s? "Good sources of those include salmon, flaxseed, walnuts and chia seed," Tolentino said. She also recommends vitamin E-rich foods like almonds, beets, asparagus and avocado. 

If you find it hard to eat healthily at any time of year, let alone the holidays, there are a few tricks to help. First, to get a clearer picture of what you currently eat (and find what's missing from your diet), start a food journal. You can also organize your kitchen to make it easier to cook and eat healthier foods. And if you find yourself craving fast food, you can make healthier versions of your favorite fast food to satisfy that craving.

Work on managing stress


Managing stress and making time to relax is important for staying well.

Getty Images

When you're faced with end-of-year work deadlines, lots of parties, holiday shopping and other commitments it's easy to feel run-down fast. And stress can really take a toll on your body and health, which is why it's important to try to manage stress in a healthy way during cold and flu season.

"The fall and winter seasons can be hard on our bodies, and when you factor in things like work-related stress and holiday bustle and anxiety, these things can really make us more susceptible to illness," Tolentino said. "The most impactful thing you can do to prevent a cold or flu this year is simply to take good care of yourself."

And while taking care of yourself can look different from person to person, some things that can be helpful for managing stress include exercise and using a sauna. Both also help boost circulation and help you sweat, which is helpful for supporting your body during flu season, according to Dr. Alejandro Junger, founder of the Clean Program and author of Clean 7. You can also try meditation apps, weighted blankets and even forest bathing

Be mindful of alcohol consumption 


Doctors recommend monitoring alcohol consumption since it can affect your ability to fight off illnesses like a cold or the flu.

Getty Images

With the onset of the holiday season comes lots of parties and celebrations. And while there's nothing wrong with celebrating and enjoying a drink or two, it's a good idea to be mindful of how alcohol consumption can affect your body and its ability to prevent and fight off illness. 

"Alcohol gets detoxified in the liver," Tolentino said. For this reason you want to be careful to not overdo the booze since it can affect your liver, which also plays a role in your immune health. Tolentino says a drink or two is normally OK, but if you're drinking more (like five or six) there can be a problem for your immune system. "Your immune system's capabilities to fight off infection would go down because alcohol contributes to increased liver detoxification," she said. And the reason why you don't want your liver to get overburdened with processing alcohol is because that means your body will have to work harder to also fight off a cold or other illness. 

Another downside of alcohol consumption is that it can disrupt your circadian rhythm, which means you may not sleep as well. And having your liver health and sleep compromised is not ideal for helping you fight off colds and flu this season.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.