As the first cold weekend hits the NY area, people are bundling up to ward off the elements. In the back of their minds, I wonder if they are hearing their mothers telling them they’ll catch a cold if they go outside without a hat. Truth of the matter is you may be better off wearing a scarf to cover your nose rather than a hat.
What causes colds?
Colds are caused by viruses – over 200 subtypes. The most common belong to a family called Rhinovirus. These viruses take root in our noses and throats and cause infection. The body’s immune system fights the viruses, and eventually you recover. But between infection and recovery is fever, aches, cough and phlegm that make the world shun you and make you feel miserable. So how do we prevent colds?
For generations, parents, grandparents and know-it-all neighbors have admonished those under dressed to bundle up or they will catch a cold. However, a virus infects you when it attaches to the membranes in your nose or throat. A hat doesn’t change that. Why do we see more colds during the winter months?
It turns out that the Rhinovirus reproduces better at slightly below body temperature – as occurs when you breathe in cold air through your nose lowering the temperature in your nose. Being cold releases causes an adrenaline release in the system – which acts as a decongestant. While making it easier to breathe, it also decreases the delivery of immune cells to the cold area, and drier membranes in the nose are more likely to crack, making it easier for the virus to get in. In addition, your immune cells do not fight as well at colder temperatures – allowing the Rhinovirus to take hold and multiply – and you catch a cold.
What can you do?
Colds are spread more from touch than breathing in virus particles. We shake hands or touch something someone sneezed on, then wipe our noses, mouths, eyes, etc. The best defense is to wash your hands. Other prevention measures:
wipe down shared items in the office and home – computers, phones, tables, etc
surgical mask if you are sick (keeps you from spreading infectious particles)
if you have a weakened immune system due to medication or other condition consider wearing a surgical mask
keep your mouth and nose warm
and did I mention wash your hands?!
So maybe breathing through your hat instead of putting it on your head will prevent a cold!
It’s that time of year in NYC (I know other parts of the country already started) when buses are filled with children sporting back packs, tales of summer vacation are told and germs are spread.
In my office, it is also the time of year in which adults get re-exposed to germs they haven’t seen in years – the kids get a sniffle at best, and the adults (especially new teachers) feel like they’ve been hit by a Mack truck! Why is this? What is it about “kid germs” that affect adults so severely?
The reason for this comes from our immune systems. The fevers we get and the aches we feel are a result of our bodies response to the infection. The more our immune systems get activated – the worse we feel!
Our immune systems develop memory. That’s why you only get certain diseases once. If you are exposed again later in life – the memory of the infection may have faded – and your body responds in full force. When you are exposed to similar infections multiple times – or if you are vaccinated against a disease you body can respond faster and with less inflammation – and you don’t feel sick! An MMR – measles, mumps, rubella – vaccine given in childhood and an adult booster gives enough immune memory to last a lifetime.
To help stop the spread of these infections basic hygiene is our best defense – HAND WASHING with soap and water or hand sanitizer. Covering our mouths when we cough and sneeze; and taking our FLU SHOTS.
I wrote about flu shots last year. Recent politics aside, there is no danger of getting the flu from the flu shot. There can be side effects, depending on if you have an infection brewing or how strongly your immune system reacts to the shot, but there is no live virus in the vaccine to transmit disease.
The strains in this years flu shot are different from last year, and early reports show a good match between flu strains we are starting to see in the public and what is in the shot. So get your flu shot, and feel better through the season!
New Year’s is a time of resolution, renewal and rejuvenation. People resolve to stop smoking, lose weight and exercise. More gym memberships are sold in January than any other time of the year, and many go unused. We all have this sense that we should exercise more – but have you ever wondered why that is such a universal sentiment? What is it about exercise that makes it hard to maintain but remain so high on our wish lists? What does exercise do for us?
Exercise impacts not only our muscles but almost every body function we have – it changes multiple hormone levels, insulin sensitivity, pain perception, hunger, sex drive and mood. Exercise gives you the power to heal yourself. Regular exercise promotes the following changes in the body:
increases the development of new blood vessels (can help in heart disease)
improves the functioning of multiple immune system aspects
decreases anxiety and depression
decreases pain in osteoarthritis
improves blood pressure
improves diabetes beyond weight loss
decreases the cravings for cigarettes
strengthens muscle fibers as well as promotes the development of more muscle tissue
stimulates the reward centers in the brain with substances called endorphins
and many other functions
These effects are separate from and in addition to the usual weight loss that accompanies exercise.
So what is exercise?
Exercise is any activity that maintains or improves physical fitness, health and wellness. Studies have shown moderate activity will begin to show the benefits of exercise. Moderate exercise is defined as 150 minutes per week (30 minutes/5 days per week) of brisk walking or similar activity. The more intense your activity, the less total time you need – 75 minutes per week of intense activity will give similar benefits to the 150 minutes of moderate activity.
A recent study in the journal Lancet showed that in people with a high risk of heart disease and pre-diabetes decreased their risk of a heart attack by 10% just by increasing their walking by 2000 steps per day. Another study in the British Medical Journal demonstrated that regular exercise was as effective as medication in preventing death from second heart attacks, rehabilitation from a stroke, improving heart failure and preventing diabetes.
The trick is maintaining the activity to continue reaping the benefits – if you don’t use it, you lose it. Another way of looking at it is stated very well by Jim Rohn, an author and self development coach. “Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going.”
What do I recommend in my practice?
So, should everyone stop their medications if they exercise? No, and certainly not without discussing your plans with your doctor. Not every condition can be controlled with exercise, and not every medication can be safely stopped abruptly. What I try to emphasize with my patients is that medication begins to correct a problem immediately – for example – lowering cardiovascular risk with a statin; adding an exercise program helps manage the long term risk. We can then decide if immediate action is necessary, and set a goal – say losing a certain amount of weight. When the goal is reached, stop the medication and reassess the condition.
By re-evaluating your diagnosis the effect of medication and the effect of your actions on your diagnosis can be measured, and your treatment plan revised. You become an equal partner on your journey to wellness by revising your diagnosis!
Personally, I reconnected with running about 3 years ago. While there have been some ups and downs, I’ve managed to keep about 20 pounds off, and will be running my 7th half marathon next weekend. If you’d like to read about my own story on how I started maintaining a program, see this post – Exercise for a Cause, originally posted on TheVisualMD.com in 2011.
The path to wellness begins with a proper diagnosis