Friday, November 7, 2008

Staying Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

Staying healthy throughout the cold and flu season is a very frugal thing to do. I know personally, when I'm sick I have less energy to cook from scratch, keep up with the house, and do more frugal activities. Also, a fair number of workers these days have limited (or zero) sick leave, so a sick day means loss of $.

So here are my tips to staying healthy, as well as the cost associated with each, denoted by $, $$:

1. Wash your hands. Frequently. What you need: Soap and hot water, and about 30 seconds of your time. What may also be helpful: a good hand lotion. Frequent hand washing has the disadvantage of drying out your skin. Two lotions that work well for me are "Udder Cream" and "Circle of Friends Mom's Little Helper Hand Creme" (the latter was a free gift when I ran a 10k). Cost: almost free to $

2. Get a flu shot. What you need: about $15 (although some places it's free). What may also be useful: acetamenophen for the pain from the shot. My arm was sore for several days. The advantage to the flu shot is that it can prevent the flu or lessen the severity if you do get it. I had a mild case of fever after my flu shot this year. Cost: $$

3. Wipe down public surfaces: What you need: Clorox (or other brand) of disinfecting wipes. These things claim to kill the flu virus or norovirus. We bought these last year when we were expecting houseguests but had a stomach bug. We ended up putting our family up in a hotel for a few days, and used these guys to disinfect the house before they moved in. Cost: $ (about $2 to 3).

These can also be useful at work. Most people I know come to work sick. And if they don't, they were probably contagious before they started feeling the effects. I have these at work, and if someone is sick, I may take extra time in the morning and afternoon to wipe down doorknobs, the fridge door, and other public spaces.

4. Sleep. What you need: A bed, pillow blankets. What might also be useful: a dark room and some white noise (a fan?) This cannot be underestimated. When I am feeling tired and stressed out, I often will just crawl into bed right after (or even before) my toddler. I'd rather have that extra hour of sleep than get any extra chores done. Even if it means I'm going to bed at 8 pm. It also may mean my body stays strong enough to fight a cold. Cost: Free.

5. Exercise. What you need: low-end, a good pair of shoes. High-end: a gym membership. Regular exercise keeps your body strong. Strangely, if I am feeling overtired and I overexert myself with a hard workout, I am more likely to get sick. So if I'm feeling weak, I dial back my workout a bit. What might also be useful: more wipes. I have gotten into the habit at the gym (thanks to a friend), of wiping down the equipment I use BEFORE getting on it. You never know what other gym-goers are carrying with them. Cost: $ to $$$.

6. Healthy diet. What you need: Fruits. Vegetables. Whole grains. Lots of water. What might also be useful: a multivitamin. If you aren't doing so well on the diet. Cost: well, you need to eat.

7. A special "anti-cold" regimen. A lot of people have these. Based on discussions with friends and various practices, here's mine:

If I feel like I'm getting a cold - scratchy throat or stuffy nose (unfortunately, these symptoms match my allergies, which are bad during the wet winter months - mold allergy), I start my regimen: Every 3 hours (5x a day) I take Zicam (or a store brand of the same). This is a zinc supplement that is supposed to reduce the effects of a cold and shorten it. When Zicam first came out, it was in a nose-gel, and there were concerns about losing your sense of taste.

Now there are several different ways of taking it, including chews (yuck) and pills that dissolve (not bad). You can save money on these several ways: coupons (I see these regularly), sales (I purchased my last set buy 1 get 1 free), store brand. If you find yourself buying it without the benefit of a sale, you will probably pay $8-12 for a bottle, which is about one "cold's" worth - 5 days. When I am diligent about taking this at the onset of a cold, this stuff really really works. I started using this last year and my sick days have reduced both in number and in severity.

It certainly isn't cheap, but it's better than using all your sick days, or feeling miserable for a week.

I also take a 500mg vitamin C tablet once per day, and be sure to drink lots of water and take my multivitamin.

Other alternatives include echninacea, Cold-Eeze zinc lozenges, etc.

Cost for my regimen: $$ (about $10 each time I start feeling sick).

8. Segregation. What you need: a separate place to sleep. It's not popular, but our rule is that the sick person gets the bed, and the healthy person can risk it or not. It is not uncommon for one of us to bunk on the couch or the floor to avoid getting sick. With a toddler, it's harder. Cost: $ (for an extra pillow, mattress)

9. A follow up to #8. Stay home. It seems that any time I try to fly to visit family over the holidays, I get sick. I either get it from someone on the plane or from my family at the other end. Sometimes I'm so stressed out before leaving that I get sick before I even get on the plane. Cost: free - this saves you money!

10. If all else fails and I get sick anyway, here's how I try to get over it faster:

Drugs - the kind that help you sleep and treat the symptoms. If I am better rested and can breathe, I get better faster.

Exercise - after the first day, which is generally the worst, it helps to move around a bit - I just get stiff if I sit on the couch all day. Short walks. Free.

Saline drops to help clear out my nose. Or steam (hot shower).

Chicken soup and tea for my sore throat. Cheap if you use your homemade stock. About 5 cents for a cup of good tea.

Any other good tips out there?

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