News about the severe flu season is everywhere. Some reports indicate this flu season trumps any other seen in more than a decade. Across the nation, emergency rooms have been overwhelmed by people admitted with severe flu symptoms. 

Clearly, getting the flu shot is the first step to avoiding the flu, but being vaccinated is not a guarantee you won’t get sick. The Centers for Disease Control says the flu vaccine may only be about 60 percent effective. And the vaccine can take up to two weeks to work, leaving people vulnerable in the mean time. 

Too often, people wait until they start feeling sick to do anything—a reactive approach. However, the key to strong immunity lies in proactive steps you can take to take charge of your health. 

Here are our top six:

  1. Wash your hands. Wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water, for at least 20 seconds. A good rule of thumb is to sing two rounds of the “Happy Birthday” song to yourself. In addition to voracious hand washing, use a non-alcohol based hand sanitizer regularly, especially when you have limited access to a sink. This is very important when you are in public places like grocery stores or public transportation.  
  2. Get more sleep. We often overlook this one important factor for bolstering the body’s immunity.  If getting the recommended eight hours of sleep is out of the question for you, do what you can to make the sleep you do get more restful: Avoiding afternoon caffeine will promote better sleep. Studies reveal consistent rest not only helps fight off cold and flu viruses, but also speeds up recovery time.
  3.  Use a saline spray for your nose. This may not sound like much fun, but using an inexpensive saline spray or rinse is an effective way to flush bacteria and viruses out of your nose . Saline sprays can be purchased at any local pharmacy. As an alternative, use a neti pot salt-water rinse.
  4. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruit and vegetable intake can be challenging in the winter when the body craves starchy comfort foods, but the healthy immune benefits of these foods cannot be overstated. Vegetables and fruit are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants you need to maintain a healthy system. Fresh fruit makes wonderful snacks during the day and spruces up your morning breakfast. On the go? Blend the fruit for a wholesome smoothie. Make an effort to include vegetables in at least one meal a day: slow cook a  veggie-based soup, steam some broccoli or green beans, or make a fresh salad with spinach and romaine.
  5. Take a walk. Moderate exercise, like walking in as little as 30-minute increments, increases the body’s immune response. Studies show people who engage in such activity have significantly lower occurrences of upper respiratory tract infections.  Further, the activity stimulates critical immune components like natural killer cells which help you fight seasonal illness.
  6. Stay home. Despite your best efforts, you still may wake up feeling under the weather. One of the easiest things you can do when you feel symptoms of a sickness coming on is to stay home and rest. Not only does this help prevent you from spreading germs, it allows you to replenish your body with necessary rest to speed up recovery. If your kids are sick, keep them home as well.

Larry Robinson, Ph.D. and Stuart Reeves, Ph.D., ARCS are co-authors of “The Key to a Healthy Immune System,” and have been instrumental in spearheading research investigating the concept of balanced immune health. Learn more at www.epicorimmune.com.

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