To prevent flu -- or any illness -- you've got to stick with a healthy lifestyle.
"I really believe your immune system takes care of a lot of things," says Erica Brownfield, MD, a professor of internal medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "Even if you've been exposed to the flu, you don't have to get it."
The CDC reports this year's flu shot may not protect against a strain of influenza that's hitting the U.S.
Q. Does this mean the flu shot is useless?
Not at all. Although this year's flu vaccine doesn't match two of the three main types of flu strains now in circulation, people who did get a flu shot and catch the flu get a much milder disease. This can make a life-or-death difference to people who are at high risk of flu complications, such as pregnant women, young children, the elderly,...
The best flu prevention strategy is basic -- good nutrition, regular exercise, and enough sleep, she tells WebMD. "You can also wash hands frequently, and avoid people who have the flu. But really, it's hard to prevent contact with germs. Keeping yourself healthy is generally the best defense against the flu."
Making It Work Every Day
Eat your vegetables. A well-nourished immune system is better able to fight off infections. It's got to be fueled with natural vitamins and antioxidants found in healthy foods. Eat dark-green, red, and yellow vegetables and fruits. They're packed with numerous antioxidants, plus vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene.
Exercise regularly. Every time you walk or run, you're boosting your body's immunity, the natural defense against viruses. A daily 30-minute walk -- or three 10-minute walks -- is the minimum you need. Doing more provides greater health benefits.
Get plenty of sleep. Most adults need about 7 to 8 hours sleep. Teens need more -- about 9 hours daily. Growing kids need from 10 to 12 hours of sleep.
Reduce stress. Some stress is good, but know when to relax. Too much stress impairs the immune system.
"There are no guarantees," says Robert Schwartz, MD, chairman of family medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "You can do all these things, lead an absolutely healthy lifestyle, and still get sick. But if you're healthy and your immune system is working, it's possible to avoid getting the flu. At least, you will be sick less often anyway."
SOURCES: Erica Brownfield, MD, professor of internal medicine, Emory
University School of Medicine, Atlanta. Robert Schwartz, MD, chairman, family
medicine, University of Miami School of Medicine. CDC: "Stopping the Spread of
Germs at Home, Work, & School" and "Good Health Habits for Preventing