Stay healthy this winter

Sarah Johnson
Sarah Johnson

After a dry summer that seemed like it might never end, some of us welcome fall weather with more enthusiasm than usual. However, those cozy, rainy days that ushered in October also coincided with the start of cold and flu season, a reminder to take steps to stay healthy as winter looms.

One of the best ways to stay healthy is also one of the simplest: get enough sleep. Unfortunately, simple doesn’t mean easy. Busy schedules can make it challenging for adults to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep. Establishing sleep as a priority can go a long way, though, toward a healthy winter.

“Sleep is the best medicine,” said Christine Gallagher, a natural health expert at Journey for Wellness in Grand Junction. Now is the time to focus on a good sleep routine, Gallagher said: “So you’re not starting the season with a weakened immune system.”

You’ll have a better chance at a good night’s sleep if you follow some basic guidelines. Stick to a schedule that includes regular exercise, a consistent bedtime and turning off electronic devices at least an hour before sleep. Eating too close to bedtime can also make quality sleep more difficult to attain. Reduce noise — no sleeping with the TV on — and keep the room as dark as possible. Don’t forget to check for light sources that might not be obvious, like digital clocks or computers.

Fall is also the best time to get a flu shot. Last year, 232 people were hospitalized for flu in Mesa County, the highest number in recent years. The flu shot offers the best protection against severe complications. The vaccine takes about two weeks for full effect, so the earlier you’re vaccinated, the less likely you are to contract flu or spread it to others.

“It’s incredibly important to keep in mind that you’re not just protecting yourself, but also those around you,” said Allison Sanchez, clinic manager at Mesa County Public Health.

Even if you think you’re unlikely to get sick, you can still spread the virus to others who might be at risk. For young children, people with chronic medical conditions and adults older than 65, flu can be deadly.

Contrary to popular belief, the flu isn’t a stomach virus, Sanchez said. The flu is a respiratory illness spread by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk or touch a contaminated surface or object and then touch their noses or mouths.

Symptoms include fever, cough, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, sore throat, fatigue and headache. Flu symptoms usually set in fast and hard — “like a cold times five,” according to Sanchez  — while cold symptoms are typically more gradual and less severe.

Sanchez recommended covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands regularly and sanitizing surfaces often, especially at work. Sanchez urged people to stay home when they’re sick. Many employers have policies that define a time frame — like 24 hours without a fever —  before an employee returns to work. For employers, now’s a good time to remind teams of those expectations.

“The windows are closed, and we’re inside more, so any virus is bound to spread more quickly and more severely in winter,” Sanchez said.

Businesses may request an on-site employee flu vaccination clinic through the Mesa County Public Health website at Flu shots are also available at pharmacies; doctors’ offices; and at the Mesa County Public Health clinic, which accepts most insurances, but will provide vaccinations regardless of ability to pay. Call the clinic at 248-6900 to schedule an appointment or stop by 510 29 1/2 Road in Grand Junction during walk-in clinic dates. Adult clinics are scheduled for 2 to 6 p.m. Oct. 17 and 8 a.m. to noon Oct. 23. An all-ages clinic is set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 20.

Karla Klemm, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Mesa County Public Health, emphasized good nutrition to promote wellness during the colder months. Klemm recommended a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains with moderate intake of chicken, fish and meat and little to no processed foods. Local, seasonal fruits and vegetables typically are freshest and offer maximum nutrients, so she encouraged people to find quick, easy recipes that include such fall crops as squash, sweet potatoes and root vegetables.

Klemm also suggested prepping sliced vegetables and dips on weekends to make snacks for weekdays. Employers can help by swapping candy and chips in the break room for a bowl of apples or other healthy snacks.

The end of the year is a busy time for just about everyone. Good sleep, flu shots, clean hands and nutritious foods will go a long way to make sure you don’t miss out.