My local news keeps reporting that cold and flu season has officially started, but I have not had a cold since 2004 and I have never had the flu. My lifestyle gives me plenty of interaction with germs (8 years as a waitress put me in direct contact with lots of germs!) but I stay healthy. My daughter attended daycare for the first 2.5 years of her life, and she has had ONE cold ever. Some of this might be good genetics, but I believe our good health comes from good habits.
As equestrians, we get so little time to ride in the winter, so do not let illness slow you down. These are my tips and tricks to staying healthy through cold and flu season so you can spend more time at the barn.
Good diet is the base for good health. I have been vegan since 2008 because that is the diet that fuels my body best. The beauty of being human is that we are all different, and some may find that other diets fuel their body better.
I am a huge believer in intuitive eating. I never meal plan because I cannot always plan what nutrients my body will crave that day. Some days, if I have done extra manual labor or had a physically strenuous ride on my horse (common at my Tucson horse boarding facility) my body craves more protein. If I have not slept well, my body craves more carbs. When the weather turns cold, I crave fats. By listening to my body, I can fuel it best. I found with meal planning that at the end of the day I was often not eating what I had cooked because it just did not fuel my body right. This resulted in massive food waste, which wasted money. I keep the foods I crave the most on hand, including my favorites fresh fruits and veggies, as well as seitan and tofu. Utilize your freezer and keep your favorites on hand to fuel your body with what it needs for optimal health.
If you want to learn more about intuitive eating, I highly recommend the book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works (buy it here).
For an extra immunity booster, add raw garlic to every meal. (Bonus: keep doing this in the summer to keep bugs away. I have not had a bug bite in YEARS!)
When I was 13, I got sick. Not just with a cold or the flu, but with long-term stomach problems that I still do not have a diagnosis for. After seeing doctor after doctor after doctor – and even having my stomach scoped – I started taking probiotics and these helped immensely. I believe my good health comes from my long-term use of them, but even in the short term, you will notice a difference in your health with fewer short-term illnesses like a cold.
Over the years I have used several different brands of probiotics, based on what is available in my area. I currently take Now Foods Probiotic 10 (buy it here), and it works well for me. I also take Now Foods Chewable Papaya Enzyme (buy it here) to increase my digestion for all the healthy food I eat. For a non-vegetarian probiotic, Amber at livesimplybetterblog.com recommends Bio-Kult (buy it here) and swears this is the reason her family stays healthy in the winter. You can read her full review on Bio-Kult here.
Wash Your Hands
This sounds so simple, but this is the reason I did not get sick during all my years of waitressing. Any time you think you have contacted something germy, find a sink and wash your hands. Work up a good lather, sing Happy Birthday twice (for a total of 20 seconds), rinse and dry. Done.
In college, I was a gym rat. I was at the gym every night, and I made friends with lots of other gym rats who were there every day, no matter what. A friend of mine who was really into lifting weights swore that when he was sick working out extra hard and increasing his core temperature helped him heal faster.
Exercise increases your overall fitness, which boosts your immune system. This does not require intense exercise either. Walking 30 minutes a day increases your number of white blood cells so your body can fight infections more effectively.
You know what is really good exercise? Riding your horse. The more you get to the barn this winter, the healthier you will be.
Go Outside Every Day
When I lived in Montana, my Vitamin D levels were chronically low, so going outside every day was extra important. Luckily, I had horse chores to do and high-energy dogs to walk, so I had reason to be out. The hard part was going out without completely covering my skin. The sun cannot give you Vitamin D if you are all covered up.
Although you can supplement Vitamin D (buy it here), getting it from the sun is best. How much you need depends on your skin tone and your body fat percentage. Darker skin requires more sun exposure to get enough Vitamin D. Since it is a fat-soluble vitamin, the higher your body fat percentage, the longer you need to stay in the sun.
Dirt is full of wonderful bacteria that boosts your immune system. My kid’s favorite activity is digging holes in the dirt, and I am sure that has contributed to her overall good health. Next time you are at the barn, take your gloves off for a while. Get dirt under your fingernails. Your immune system will thank you.
Take a Cold Shower
No, not a typo. Taking a cold shower has more health benefits than a hot, steamy one, especially when it comes to boosting your immune system. A study in England found that after 30 days of cold showers where the water was 57 degrees Fahrenheit, participants had increased leukocyte, granulocyte, and monocyte white blood cells. Even better, it boosted their metabolisms so that their bodies were able to circulate the white blood cells more effectively.
Need another reason for a cold shower? Cold showers promote brown body fat (the kind that keeps you warm), reduce white body fat (the bad kind we do not want), and can reduce your weight by up to nine pounds per year!
If you are not ready to jump into a full-time freezing shower, you can turn the temperature down for the last three minutes and still get similar health benefits.
Shaking hands is a great way to catch someone else’s germs. When my daughter was almost a year old, my daycare provider taught her to do elbow bonks and knuckle knocks instead of high fives. My daughter is now four, and she has taught most of her friends and cousins to bonk it when they say hello and goodbye.
As an adult, I have very few reasons to elbow bonk other adults, so I avoid handshakes in two ways. The first is that I keep my mittens on. I can easily throw these in the washer when I get home. The second way is to carry lots of things in my arms so that I cannot gracefully juggle it around to shake someone’s hand. Most people understand. If you cannot avoid a handshake (because in professional situations it is expected) avoid touching your face until you can wash your hands.
Beat the Bugs
By making a few easy lifestyle and diet changes this cold and flu season, you can beat the bugs and stay healthy. Healthy means more time at the barn, and we know how limited that can be in the winter.
What are your tips for staying healthy through cold and flu season? Let me know in the comments below!
Welcome! I've been a freelance writer since 2002 and have numerous horse-related articles published in print and online publications. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Rocky Mountain College with a major in Equestrian Studies and a minor in Business Management. My current business ventures include High Plains Arena and real estate investing.