5 ways to avoid getting sick during the holidays

Shopping for gifts, cooking, parties and traveling to see family are holiday responsibilities that require a lot of energy, and coming down with a cold or flu is the last thing you need this time of year. With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we come into contact with more germs that can weaken the immune system. In fact, there are over 200 different viruses that are more prevalent during the winter months.

Dr. Keri Peterson, an internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told FoxNews.com that staying healthy during the holidays doesn’t have to be hard if you know what to do.

Avoid germ hotspots
Cold temperatures and unpredictable winter weather means spending more time indoors. Peterson said any time there are a lot of people using the same space, there is exposure to more germs.

“People work out at the gym rather than going to the park so the gym equipment is a big germ hotspot,” Peterson said. “Also, people tend do more shopping at malls. Door handles and escalator handles are particularly germy.”

Using hand sanitizer when you go to public places can help make sure you don’t bring cold and flu germs home with you.

Don’t spread germs to friends and family
If you feel a cold coming on, there are ways to avoid spreading your illness at parties, family gatherings and public places. Peterson said the simplest and most important thing to remember is to wash your hands.

“Hand washing by rubbing the hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds helps to slough germs off the skin,” she said. “Teach your children to wash their hands as well.”

Peterson recommends coughing into your sleeve or elbow rather than into your hands, which will lead to contaminating anything you touch.

“Avoid touching your face and others,” she added. “Be conscientious of touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, which will contaminate your hands. Most adults touch their face about 16 times a day, and children do a lot more often, increasing the spread of germs.”

Be prepared for travel
The holiday season is the busiest travel time of the year, visiting family or going on vacation.

“People are in closer proximity on trains and airplanes so they are more likely to be contaminated if someone coughs or sneezes,” she said. “Plus, the sanitization of trains and airplanes is not very thorough, so surfaces are more likely to harbor germs.”

Peterson said the best way to avoid picking up a virus while using public transportation is by using anti-bacterial wipes to clean your hands, tray tables, television buttons and arm rests.

“Avoid shared items on planes. Unless they are pre-packaged, avoid items used by many people such as pillows, blankets, seat back pockets, earphones and magazines,” she said.

Keep holiday stress at bay
Getting everything done on our holiday to-do list can cause anxiety and leave us feeling stressed and fatigued.

“Stress impacts your immune system making it more difficult to fight off colds and flu,” she said. “Plus, stress often causes sleep deprivation, which further suppresses your immune system.”

Peterson said making sure you try and stick to a healthy diet, making sleep a priority and keeping alcohol consumption to a moderate level can help your body get through the holidays without getting sick.

Get moving
We don’t have a lot of extra time during the holidays, but Peterson said fitting in even a small amount of physical activity each day can help ward off colds and the flu by boosting the immune system.

“Exercise on a regular basis helps to turn down the production of stress hormones.  So it helps avoid the damage to our health that prolonged stress can cause,” she said. “Studies have found that exercise is a potent antidepressant, anti-anxiety and sleeping aid for many people.”