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Six Ways to Stay Healthy This Flu Season

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Six Ways to Stay Healthy This Flu Season
Six Ways to Stay Healthy This Flu Season

    Barring the sudden mutation of bird flu into Super Death Flu, most winter illnesses aren’t life-threatening (except to the elderly and the very young). Catching whatever bug is going around will usually just slow you down for a couple days, making you feel miserable. They’re more inconvenient than anything else. Still, American businesses lose millions of working hours to employee sickness, most of it due not to missed work days (Americans don’t use sick days) but rather to lowered productivity due to employees coming in sick.

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    There’s no sure-fire way to make sure you don’t catch cold or flu, but there are a few things you can do to increase your odds. And if you do get sick, there are also a couple things you ought to keep in mind to avoid spreading your illness to your friends, co-workers, and loved ones.

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    1. First of all, forget the anti-bacterial soap. Anti-bacterial soap offers no particular advantage over soap alone — it’s the washing that counts, regardless of the soap. Even if anti-bacterial additives worked, though, they still wouldn’t help much, since the main threat in flu season is viruses, not bacteria. Meanwhile, the introduction of anti-bacterial substances into our hand soap, laundry detergent, dish soap, hand lotions, toothbrushes, and just about everything else contributes to the evolution of resistant strains of bacteria — in the long run, posing a greater threat than the risk of normal household bacteria pose today. These products should only be used in clinical conditions — hospitals, doctor’s offices, labs — to minimize the rate of resistance development.
    2. On the other hand, use hand sanitizer. The active ingredient in most hand sanitizers is alcohol, not specialized anti-bacterial agents. If you cannot wash your hands, and there is no visible dirt on your hands, hand sanitizer is a reasonable second line of defense. Use it before you eat or prepare food, of course (but only if you cannot wash), but also after using public transportation, visiting the bank teller window (or anywhere else where people put their hands a lot), using a shopping cart, or selecting meat at the supermarket.
    3. Better yet, wash your hands. But do it right, instead of the way you wash your hands now. A good hand-washing is more effective than hand sanitizer, regardless of the kind of soap you use. The problem is, most people don’t wash long enough to get a good hand-washing. You should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds to assure real cleanliness. How long is that? About as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” two times through (you don’t have to sing out loud if you don’t want to, though).
    4. Avoid the buffet. Yes, buffets are amazing — bountiful cornucopias of delights. They are also among the least sanitary ways to serve food. Almost every customer before you has touched the tongs, spoon, or spatula the food is served with, introducing all manner of bacteria and viruses into the dish (I said “almost” every customer — the rest just stuck their hands right in). Food is rarely kept hot enough to kill any germs that get on or in it; generally, buffet food is kept at a temperature well within the comfort zone of food poisoning bacteria. Yum!
    5. If you do get sick, stay home. A lot of people go into work sick, feeling that they have too much on their plates to miss a day. Those people are profoundly disturbed, and should see a therapist or life coach immediately. In any case, the reality is that more productivity is lost due to sick workers than to absent workers. You can do the math yourself: if you go into work and work at 50% effectiveness for five days, instead of staying home for two days and coming in fully recovered the third, you’ve lost half a day’s work (50% + 50% + 50% + 50% + 50% = 250% vs. 0% + 0% + 100% + 100% + 100% = 300%). On top of that, you risk infecting your co-workers, reducing their productivity as well, and costing your company a heck of a lot more than your two days off.
    6. If you can’t avoid people, at least cough properly. Cough into your sleeves, not your hands. When you cough, cover your mouth with your elbow or shoulder, not your hands. I know, it seems gross, all those germs just lingering around in your sleeve, but better in your shirt (which you rarely touch anyone or anything with) than on your hands (which you touch everything with). Bacteria and viruses will quickly die in the fabric of your shirt or blouse, while the oils and warmth of your hands will keep them alive for hours. Bottom line: you won’t be spreading germs everywhere you go.

      Following the advice above will not completely eliminate the risk of illness, but it will certainly reduce your risks and, if you do get sick reduce the threat you pose to others. Certainly a healthy diet and lifestyle can help, as can a round of flu shots, but neither of those is very useful if you don’t minimize your exposure to the germs that cause illness. Unfortunately, the trend over the last few years has been to put our trust in virtually useless anti-bacterial soaps, leading us down the wrong path entirely. Good hand-washing habits, being careful about where you put your hands in the first place, and common courtesy are far more effective.

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2020

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

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    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
    Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

    1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
    2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
    3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
    4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
    5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
    6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
    7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
    8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
    9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
    10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
    11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
    12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
    13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
    14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
    15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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