These daily habits might keep you from getting sick

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One of the more frustrating things about getting sick is that, unless you shared a drink with someone with the sniffles or your significant other has a cold, you probably don't know what caused the sickness. What could you have done to prevent it?

While you can't scan every surface for cold and flu germs, there are some things you can do to shoo away invading pathogens. Your immune system fights viruses and bacteria naturally, so by supporting a strong immune system, you can prevent a cold or other illness before symptoms start. Here are a few healthy, daily habits to take up to avoid getting sick.

Wash your hands

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly advocates that you wash your hands regularly. Not only is this a personal hygiene issue, it's also going to help keep you from getting sick. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, regular hand washing reduces the risk of respiratory illnesses, like colds, by 16-21%. Another study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews showed that hand washing reduced diarrheal illness by 23-40%. You should be washing your hands (in accordance with CDC guidelines) before and after you eat, as you prepare food, after using the bathroom, after taking out the trash and on a number of other occasions. If soap and water are not available, the CDC says that hand sanitizer can help to avoid spreading germs, as well, though it's not as effective as hand-washing.

Eat your greens

Green vegetables are loaded with the vitamins and minerals you need to keep your immune system healthy and strong. A study published in the journal Cell showed that cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts trigger a chemical signal that helps maintain a fully functioning immune system. Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale also contain vitamin C, which, according to a review in the journal Nutrients, is crucial for maintaining proper immune function.

Spend time outside

Spending time outdoors is good for your mental health, and it's good for your immune system, too. A review published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine shows that vitamin D can have positive effects on immunity and immune cells. When you spend time exposed to sunlight, your body produces more vitamin D. Try to get outdoors when you can, because better immune health is just one of the ways being outside more often can change your life.

Exercise regularly

Staying active can help you feel great for many reasons - it's good for your heart, your mind and your mood. But did you know exercise can also help you avoid the cold and flu? According to a study in the journal Clinical Sports Medicine, getting regular exercise helps boost your immune functioning to more efficiently fight invading germs.

Get enough sleep

Not getting enough sleep could come with more side effects than just being a little drowsy. It could also put you at greater risk for getting sick due to sleep's effect on your immune system. A study published in JAMA showed that people who were exposed to the common cold virus were more likely to get sick if they didn't get enough sleep. Make sure to keep a reasonable bedtime and get the hours of sleep your body needs.

Don't drink too much

Drinking too much alcohol can affect your health in serious ways, ranging from messing with your sleep schedule to impacting your risk of heart disease. But binge drinking can also undermine your immune system. According to a review in the journal Alcohol Research, binge drinking can weaken immune functioning and make you more susceptible to illness. Drinking a hot toddy or a glass of wine, however, might not be so bad. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that while excess consumption of alcohol caused harm, moderate alcohol consumption did not. In fact, the study showed that antioxidants from wine and nutrients from beer may actually be beneficial.

Manage stress

Stress management techniques, such as yoga or meditation, are good for more than just your mental health. They can also help improve your physical health, and may even help prevent you from getting sick. According to a study published in Trends in Immunology, chronic stress can interfere with your immune response, inhibiting immune cells from functioning properly. The American Psychological Association warns that psychological stress weakens the immune system, but that stress-relieving activities such as spending time with loved ones can help strengthen it. Stress management doesn't have to be complicated. If you're a busy person, here are some mindfulness techniques that take only minutes to master.

Drink tea

Drinking tea (especially tea with honey) when you have a sore throat can help to soothe symptoms. But it could be helpful to drink tea as a preventative measure against getting sick as well. According to research from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, compounds in tea can help trigger the immune system's response to infection. Other research published in the journal Nutrition Research shows that drinking tea can help prevent the spread of pathogens.

Keep your distance from people who are sick

The CDC lists avoiding close contact with those who are sick as one of the top ways to evade the flu, and the same goes for other contagious illnesses. No matter how much faith you have in your immune system, try not to get up close and personal with anyone who's sick. Notice a friend or coworker coughing, sneezing or experiencing early symptoms of the common cold? Keep your distance.

Quit biting your nails

Biting your nails can muck up your cuticles and even cause bleeding, but that's not the only reason you should avoid this bad habit. Every time you bite your nails, you're transferring germs hiding on your fingertips into your mouth. The CDC recommends you avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to avoid getting sick, especially during flu season.

Stay hydrated

Hydration is a key component of your health. If you're dehydrated, you can suffer more than just thirst. Research published in Nutrition Reviews showed a link between dehydration and a number of health problems, including disease and poor immune function. You don't need to drink a gallon of water every day, but you do need to drink enough water to stay healthy.

Clean your desk

Your office space might be one of the biggest hotbeds of germs you encounter every day. There are many areas of your office that could hide germs, but considering you probably spend a lot of your time at your desk, make sure you wipe it down with disinfectant regularly to kill off any viruses or bacteria.

Eat foods with fiber

Fiber is an important nutrient that cardiologists recommend for promoting heart health and that can help to regulate your digestion. But some evidence shows that it aids your immune system, as well. A study in the journal Immunity suggests that eating fiber helps to boost immune cell activity. Luckily, there are some very simple ways to incorporate more fiber into your diet.

Don't smoke

This might not be the most serious effect of smoking cigarettes, but it's another one to add to the list. Smoking cigarettes can weaken your immune system, according to research published in Oncotarget. A review published in the Journal of Neuroimmunology also showed that exposure to cigarette smoke could harm your ability to fight off infection.

Carry disinfectant wipes

You don't have to constantly use them, but it can't hurt to keep disinfectant wipes handy. Viruses can survive on surfaces for months before they become inactive, so you never know what you might be picking up from the surfaces you touch throughout the day. Carry disinfectant wipes so you can wipe down countertops, door handles or other potential sources of infection.

Clean your personal items

You probably know to be wary of germs in public bathrooms, on airplanes or other well-known sources of sickness. But what about your personal items that you use every day? Everyday items such as your cell phone and house keys could be hiding more germs than you realize. Clean these items regularly and make sure to wash your hands before you eat or handle food.

Maintain a healthy gut

Your gut health is determined by the balance of good and bad bacteria in your digestive system. The better the balance, the healthier your gut. Probiotics are the good kind of gut bacteria. A study in Synthetic and Systems Biotechnology found that supplementing with probiotics helped to fight off the cold and flu. And research published in the Current Opinion in Gastroenterology showed a link between probiotics and immune health.

Flavor your food with garlic

Garlic might make your breath smell, but your immune system loves it. A study published in Advances in Therapy suggests that garlic can help prevent the common cold. Add garlic powder to recipes, roast whole cloves with fall vegetables or try one of these other easy ways to eat the allium.

Use a humidifier

A humidifier can soothe your mouth, nose, throat and lungs and help you breathe easier by eliminating the strain of dry air, but it can also help stave off the flu. A study in PLOS One determined that the flu virus is less likely to thrive in a dry environment.

Keep your kitchen clean

The cold and flu viruses aren't the only germs that could get you sick. Food poisoning poses a very real risk, and it can come from inside your own kitchen. Keep your kitchen clean and disinfected by cleaning every time before and after you cook. But that's not the only precaution you should employ. In order to stay healthy and safe from food poisoning, here are the steps you should take.

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