10 ways to beat the flu

Avoid getting sidelined by the flu this winter with these doctor-recommended flu-busting tips.

With this year’s flu season already tipped to be one of the harshest ever, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners expert Dr Columbine Mullins has these top tips to shield yourself from the virus:

1. Get your flu shot

A couple of seconds discomfort getting an injection could save you from weeks of being wiped out with fever, chills, aches, sore throat and runny nose.

“The flu vaccine is one of the primary ways to beat the virus,” says Dr Mullins.

“It basically helps to develop an immune response to the flu. The flu vaccine is up to date with what is expected to be the main type of flu for the year ahead.”

The flu vaccine is considered extremely safe and is well tolerated.

However the GP points out it does not protect people from getting common colds – which often have similar symptoms to the flu, though milder and generally don’t lead to the serious health complications such as pneumonia, hospitalisation and even death that the flu can cause.

“It won’t prevent you from getting common colds, but it will prevent the flu, which is when people take more extensive time off work and there can be deaths associated,” says Dr Mullins.

2. Prioritise your sleep

Getting plenty of shut-eye is a great way to arm yourself against bugs and viruses.

“Sleep is important for boosting and maintaining a healthy immune system,” says Dr Mullins.

“Sleep provides our bodies the chance to rest and stay in good condition.

“About eight hours of sleep a night is ideal for most people.

“Kids often need more like 10 to 11 hours, depending on the age of the child.”

At this time of year when it’s cold, dark and wet outside, what’s not to love about tucking up in bed?

3. Eat a balanced diet

Nourishing your body with a variety of fresh food including vegetables, fruit, seeds, eggs, legumes, fish and lean red meat will help optimise your immune defences, says Dr Mullins.

“If the majority of your diet comes from nice, fresh food, you’re getting a lot more nutrients which help your body perform at its peak.”

In particular, Dr Mullins says amping up your dishes with extra garlic can provide an immunity boost.

“Garlic is a really positive one it has antibacterial and antiviral properties,” she says.

“Some patients say when they’re feeling unwell they actually crave garlic.

“Additionally fruits like kiwi is packed with immune-boosting vitamin C.”

4. Stay hydrated

Drinking enough water is an important part of your flu-fighting strategy as it helps to flush toxins from your system, says Dr Mullins.

“When you’re well hydrated your body can function better,” she says.

“When your body is functioning at its best your immune system can do a lot of its good work. Aim for two to three litres a day.”

5. Limit alcohol consumption

There’s an increasing number of health reasons why it’s a good idea to curb drinking – among them is its suppressing effect on the immune system.

“Too much alcohol can put our immune system under pressure, and also affect the quality of our sleep, so in effect compromise any steps you might be taking to boost your body’s ability to fight illness,” Dr Mullins says.

6. Adopt good hygiene standards

Simple cleanliness practices can help shield you from contracting the flu.

“Keep a hand sanitiser in your bag for when you’re out and about,” says Dr Mullins.

“Washing your hands regularly, especially after going to the toilet, shaking hands with someone, and prior to eating.

“Don’t share utensils and make sure you keep your surfaces clean.”

Dr Mullins also advises keeping your hands away from your face, avoiding biting your nails, and coughing into your elbow rather than your hands.

And use tissues as opposed to handkerchiefs, as you can then easily dispose of the tissues, rather than keeping germs on a cloth in your pocket,” says Dr Mullins.

“Such actions can help to prevent the spread of harmful viruses and bacteria.”

7. Avoid sick people

While it’s nice to show concern for others who might be sick, try to do so from a distance.

Check in on ill friends and family over the phone or leave care packages on their door step.

“Employers and schools should support those who are unwell by encouraging to stay home until they recover,” says Dr Mullins.

8. Keep active

Regular exercise not only keeps you fit and feeling energised, is also puts you ahead of the field when flu season rolls around.

“If you’re someone who is fit generally your immune system is going to be better,” says Dr Mullins.

“It’s great for your cardiovascular system, helps manage stress, and every time you exercise you release positive endorphins, which boost mood, health and general wellbeing.”

9. Stay calm and relax

Being overly stressed can weaken your immune system, making it harder for your body to combat illness when it needs to.

Dr Mullins says adopting a number of relaxation strategies can help manage stress and maintain immune system performance.

“Avoid technology, and practice techniques such as deep breathing exercises and meditation, they’re all things people find traditionally boost wellbeing and immunity,” Dr Mullins says.

10. Get plenty of Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a big role in supporting immune health.

While the best source is via sunlight on our skin, it can be a little trickier to get enough this time of year when there’s fewer sunlight hours and we’re often rugged up or inside.

Dr Mullins says vitamin D supplementation is a useful way to boost your stocks.

“I recommend buying Australian-made supplementation as generally we have better quality standards,” she says.

Written by Claire Burke.