1. Be ever vigilant
Be constantly on your guard against catching a cold or the flu. Keep in mind that each year the average American adult sneezes through three to five colds. Fortunately, once you've had a cold virus, your immune system will protect you from that particular strain for a long time. On the other hand, more that 200 different cold viruses exist.
2. Wash your hands
Prevent a cold or flu by washing your hands frequently and by keeping them away from your eyes, nose, and mouth. Viruses can live for one to three hours on the fingers of people who are already infected. You can pick up a cold from surfaces they touch (e.g., counters, telephones) when you touch your nose or rub your eye.
3. Don't spread the germs
Use tissues rather than cloth handkerchiefs that may harbor viruses for hours or days. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and encourage others to do the same.
4. Defend yourself
Have a flu vaccine. keep in mind that because children and the elderly are at higher risk for the flu, they have a particular need to be protected.
5. Don't share
Avoid sharing food, drinks, dishes, silverware, or straws with someone who has cold or flu symptoms.
6. Don't smoke
Cigarette smoke destroys protective cells in the airways and worsens the cough that often accompanies a cold or flu. Limit alcohol consumption, too, because alcohol depresses the level of white cells and also increases the risk of bacterial pneumonia in flu sufferers.
7. Fly smart
Because air circulation in an airplane is relatively low until take-off, delay boarding to limit your time in the plane while it's on the ground. Good air circulation can help disperse cold and flu viruses. Also, avoid dehydration of mucous membranes by drinking plenty of liquids (other than caffeine and alcohol, which increase dehydration).
8. Check out alternative cold remedies
Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about taking alternative cold remedies such as zinc lozenges at the first sign of a cold. Several clinic studies have shown that zinc may help diminish cold symptoms as well as reduce the length of a cold.
9. Don't stop exercising
Research has shown that exercise boosts the immune system. If you experience cold symptoms (above the neck), continue to exercise, but at a more moderate level of intensity than usual. Avoid exercising too hard since strenuous exercise may cause a cold to take a turn for the worse.
10. Don't sweat the small stuff
Finally, don't worry. All factors considered, the more stressed you are, the more susceptible you become to catching a cold or the flu. Undue stress may reduce the production of immunoglobulin A, a component of the immune system that helps defend the body against colds and flu.
James A. Peterson, Ph.D., FACSM, is a freelance writer and consultant in sports medicine. From 1990 until 1995, Dr. Peterson was director of sports medicine with StairMaster. Until that time, he was professor of physical education at the United States Military Academy.
Copyright 2010 by the American College of Sports Medicine.