Doctors share tips to keep you in the game, beat cold and flu season

September, 19, 2011
9/19/11
1:26
PM ET
high schoolAndy King/APOne of the easiest ways to stay healthy and in the game this season is by refusing to share. Keep your water bottles, your sweatbands and your towels to yourself.
By Diana Kelly

You’re having a great season, you’re on top of all your homework, your social life is awesome, and then, out of nowhere, you’re sidelined with a head cold.

Ugh.

To keep you in the game as often as possible this year — and virus-free — we talked to leading health experts for their best tips on how you can keep germs at bay and stay healthy. Hint: You might want to start an “air” high-five trend where you and your teammates don’t physically slap hands.

“The reason why colds are more common in the colder months is that people are spending more time indoors,” says Joel Brenner, MD, Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. “Just being around more people inside who are coughing and sneezing makes it easier for you to catch a cold.

“Germs can be spread by sharing equipment and towels, touching doors and lockers that haven’t been cleaned, and then not washing your hands appropriately and often,” says Dr. Brenner.

Family physician Dr. Cindy Haines, author of “The New Prescription,” agrees that putting the breaks on sharing is one of the best ways to minimize risk. That means not sharing your favorite lip balm, makeup, water bottle, sweatband — anything!

“I tell everyone is that it’s the same with human contact as inanimate contact, like doorknobs and benches -- you don’t know if someone who was sick was there before you.”

Dr. Haines’ No. 1 “don’t get sick tip” is don’t touch your face.

“Unless you have freshly and adequately washed your hands, don’t rub your nose, eyes, or mouth,” she says. “Remember that just by touching a doorknob, you open yourself up to infections. Being mindful of this one habit can help minimize the number of viral infections you get.”

Both doctors say you can help keep your immune system running at peak performance by getting adequate amounts of sleep, making healthy choices for meals and fueling up often, and making sure you’re staying hydrated with plenty of water.

It’s also important to make sure you’re not overtraining, says Dr. Haines.

“When you feel rundown, that’s your body’s way of telling you that you need to take a step back. Look at your schedule and see what you can modify or eliminate. Talk to your coach and see if you can skip a few practices. Make sure you get the rest your body needs and try to get an extra hour of sleep if possible.”

Both doctors agree that prevention is very important when it comes to cold and flu season.

Enhance your natural immunity and focus on good hygiene in general, in particular hand hygiene. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 15 seconds—the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.”

Now, go teach your teammates your signature cool, new “air” high-five move!

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