Dec 012004
 
Authors: Erin Skarda

Cough. Sneeze. Sniffle. Must be winter.

College students are more prone to catching the common cold, flu and other upper-respiratory infections during the cold-weather months, said Deb Morris, a registered nurse and the director of health education at Hartshorn Health Service.

Morris urged students to stay warm to help fend off illness.

"It's best if it's cold, especially if the wind is harsh, to wear hats," Morris said. "People have different body temperatures. We lose two-thirds of our body heat through our heads, so if you cover your head you'll feel warmer."

Suzanne Wild, a junior restaurant resort management major, said she has been exposed to illnesses on campus.

"Last week my entire cooking lab was sick with (symptoms) like a sinus infection with coughing and some had sore throats," Wild said.

Morris said exposure to someone who is sick, such as a roommate, family member or friend is the primary way illnesses spread.

Students should use common sense when trying to remain healthy this season, Morris said.

"The first thing that comes to mind is hand-washing," Morris said. "We put our hands to our face so often, the more a person would wash their hands, the lower the probability of transferring viral or bacterial infections."

Wild said she carries waterless hand-sanitizer so she can keep herself from spreading any germs she might come across throughout the day.

Other ways to stay healthy include getting enough rest, eating well-balanced meals from all food groups, maintaining a form of physical activity and staying hydrated, Morris said.

"Use common sense," Morris said. "When people are sick, rest and don't be in public as much. We spend so much time inside (during cold weather), so have a person cover their mouths and throw away used tissues."

Dawn Clifford, a registered dietician at the health center, said there is no magic vitamin or mineral to raise immunity.

"When it comes to nutrition in general, immunity is affected by getting enough vitamins and minerals," Clifford said. "The way to get all (nutrients) needed is eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, dairy and lean meats."

Clifford said research has been done with fish oil that shows it has potential to be immune boosting, although nothing concrete has been published. She recommends eating two servings of fish per week or taking a fish oil supplement.

Many studies have also been done with vitamin C, Clifford said.

"(Vitamin C) doesn't prevent you from getting a cold, but it may shorten the length of a cold by half a day, but not anything significant," Clifford said. "Buying mega-doses of vitamin C is not the answer."

Echinacea has also been thought of as an immune-boosting supplement.

"The research (on Echinacea) is pretty mixed," Clifford said. "Some research shows it is effective, some doesn't. With the placebo effect, if you think it's going to help, it will."

Clifford said losing weight quickly also lowers the immune system.

"One thing specific to college students with body image concerns is restrictive diets," Clifford said. "If you lose weight quickly it lowers your immune system. Don't do crash diets during the winter season."

Clifford recommends using "the Idaho-plate method" to maintain a balanced diet and stay healthy. This method is actually designed for diabetics, although Clifford said she uses it for all her patients.

The plate is divided into half fruits or vegetables; a quarter protein, such as lean meats, beans, eggs or nuts; and a quarter starch, such as bread, rice or pasta, preferably whole grain with a serving of dairy on the side.

"The method is used to make the food guide pyramid more practical," Clifford said. "It guarantees a balanced meal."

Regular exercise has also been shown to boost the immune system, Clifford said. However, excessive exercise can hurt the immune system.

"Always be thinking of new and fun activities," Clifford said. "Don't let the weather deter you. Find an outdoor activity you enjoy. The changing seasons force you to get variety."

Wild said she continues her same exercise routine throughout the changing seasons.

"I run three miles a day, usually outside, not in the snow, though," Wild said. "This week I probably won't because I run on a trail and I can't find it."

Clifford said students often feel more stressed out during the winter months.

"As the weather gets colder and (students get) more stressed out, the harder it is to keep balanced nutrition," Clifford said. "Make sure diet is still a priority when you are under more stress."

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