Yesterday I got an email warning me that this year may be the worst flu season ever. While I am not a germaphobe, I take these threats very seriously. There is nothing more derailing to a season than getting sick. Not only will it make you take a mandatory week or two off, it will leave your body drained of energy for some time after. On top of the damaging effects of the virus itself you also get slammed with the medication usually given to combat it. Many antibiotics and over the counter drugs used to make you feel better destroy your gut and can actually make you more susceptible to catching other illnesses.
Like children and the elderly swimmers and athletes are a high-risk group. We spend hours in bacteria breeding ground also known as pool and gyms, which are up there next to schools and hospitals as contaminated environments. To keep you going strong all season long, try these tips (you most likely know these already, but it’s good to have a reminder):
- Squeaky clean: Washing your hands goes without saying but it is always worth a reminder. Before you eat, before your workout, after your workout, after you use public transportation, door knobs etc.. While people tout antibacterial gel, some experts believe that they make you too clean and eliminate both the good and bad bacteria that is all around us. Standard soap and water works just as well. In addition to frequency, make sure that you wash your hands long enough; I like the Happy Birthday trick of singing happy birthday to myself, which usually takes 30 seconds, the ideal time (I get weird looks at public restrooms for this but it works).
- Avoid the public hot tub: I loved slipping into a relaxing whirlpool after a hard workout but I had to stop when I realized that they are one of the most polluted environments even with the high levels of chlorine. Bacteria thrive in warm and damp environments making the public hot tubs an ideal breeding ground. If you need a relaxing post workout treat, try the sauna or the steam room.
- Expose yourself: While a lot of bacteria is bad, most of our body has healthy bacteria that ward off infection. It is important therefore to have a healthy gut. Throughout the year, I take probiotics and digestive enzymes to help build my intestinal flora. In the winter, I also eat more fermented sources of good enzymes like Greek yogurt (with live active cultures), Kombucha, and sauerkraut.
- The Z pill: Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for good health. When we are sleep deprived, our immune system weakens, but sleep allows our body to reset itself. If you do find yourself cutting sleep short make sure that you take the proper measures to reduce your exposure.
- Eat your vegetables: Many people pop mega doses of vitamin C during the winter to boost their immune system, but I prefer getting my vitamin c from healthier and more natural sources like vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens. The vitamins and minerals are better absorbed than those from a pill.
- Flush it down: In addition to eating right, drink plenty of water to flush the system and keeping it running and swimming like a well oiled machine.
Lastly, if you do find yourself getting sick, please do us all a favor and stay away from others. It may be difficult to skip a workout or time in the office, but no one likes a carrier. Hopefully with the proper precautions we can win this bacteria battle and keep training all winter long.
You may have noticed that I did not include getting a flu shot on my list. I omited it to focus more on simple precautionary measure instead. Whether you get the shot or not is up to you.