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Low Humidity, Temps Make Holiday Season Perfect For Spreading Germs  

Individuals may avoid picking up viruses with regular exercise, adequate sleep

DAYTON, Ohio (November 12, 2013) – Research has shown what many have long suspected: The winter months provide the perfect breeding ground for the cold and influenza viruses.

According to research published in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), low humidity and low temperatures provide the best environment for germs to be transmitted. The research findings may provide one reason why the holiday season – when winter weather commences and individuals congregate in large crowds – creates the perfect storm for the flu bug to be passed around, said Joshua Ordway, MD, of Franklin Family Practice.

“It’s not that the holiday season and winter months are a time when we are necessarily more susceptible to germs, likely more important is that cold and flu viruses are able to multiply and infect easier,” Dr. Ordway said. “The humidity in the summer might actually help protect us from these viruses.”

There are many steps individuals can take to ensure that they don’t spread more than holiday cheer at this year’s gatherings. Perhaps one of the best things individuals can do is to stay active and not neglect their exercise habits. Exercise plays an important role in reducing the risk of catching a cold or flu virus even though the holiday season is a time when many decide to take a break in their exercise regime.

“Exercise helps all the cells that are responsible for the immune system to patrol the body faster and get rid of germs and toxins more quickly,” Dr. Ordway, a Premier HealthNet physician, said. “The body’s rise in temperature also inhibits germ growth, which is the same reason we get fevers during illnesses.”

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that individuals who exercised on a regular basis were less sick than those who didn’t. For the study, researchers recruited 1,000 volunteers between age 18 and 85 to complete a daily log of symptoms throughout the cold and flu season. At the end of the three-month study, the researchers found that participants who exercised five days a week for 20 minutes or more experienced about 40 percent fewer days of illness compared to those putting in less than one day a week of activity.

Still, Dr. Ordway warns against too much of a good thing. According to the NIH, exercise stress – exercising significantly above the recommended weekly amount – actually increases an individual’s susceptibility to the influenza infection. Individuals also need to keep in mind that exercise is usually not the only reason someone is able to stay healthy while those around them suffer from a virus. Sleep also plays an important role.

“A lot of people get physically run down during the winter months because they are running around trying to get things done while it is still daylight,” Dr. Ordway said. “As a result, many are stressing themselves out and not getting enough sleep. It all suppresses our immune system and makes us more susceptible to cold and flu viruses.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night. However, recent studies by the foundation have found that more adults are sleeping an average of six hours a night or less. For many, those hours become even shorter during holiday months when events and responsibilities increase, Dr. Ordway said.

Aside from regular exercise and adequate sleep, individuals can combat viruses by making sure they eat a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables. And, as usual, regular washing of hands should be a top priority.

“Never underestimate the power of hand washing and make it a priority any time you are around someone who is sick and especially right before you eat,” Dr. Ordway said. “And try not to neglect fresh fruits and vegetables even though they can be a little bit more expensive in the winter. They provide the minerals and nutrients we need to have a healthy immune system.”

To find out more holiday health tips, or to find a Premier HealthNet physician near you, visit www.premierhealthnet.com/doctor.

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