Doctors and nurses come in contact with more sick people than anyone else, and yet they rarely get sick. They too, like you, have a hard and stressful job, but they don’t have the luxury of getting sick. So how do they prevent themselves from catching diseases? Beyond just washing their hands after receiving each patient, they have many ways to do this, and today we invite you to learn 10 of them so that you can stay as healthy as possible throughout the year.
Usually, the transmission of illnesses is from hands, nose, eyes, and mouth," says Nicoleta Constantin, a nurse at several North Carolina hospitals. She has made not touching her face a habit and if she has to scratch her nose or something else, she uses a tissue or her forearm. In addition, Dr. Louis J. Morledge of New York notes that if you chew your fingernails, you should make every effort to stop this nasty habit – under your nails is a good place for bacteria to accumulate, and putting them in your mouth is a surefire way of allowing them to enter your body.
Doctors and nurses are used to washing hands after contact with patients, and they do so even after work hours when they don’t come in contact with other people. "You can get a lot of nasty bugs at the gym," says Jocelyn Freeman, a nurse from Arizona. She always washes her hands with soap and water as soon as she gets home, noting that hand sanitizer just doesn’t cut it; they reduce the number of microbes we carry on our hands but don’t eliminate them. In addition, she recommends wiping the shopping cart handle with an antibacterial wet wipe, in light of a study published in 2012, in which 72% of the shopping carts were found to contain harmful bacteria, 51% of which are E. coli bacteria.
"Personally, I feel better and avoid getting as sick when I skip having those gummy bears for a snack," says Michelle Katz, a nurse and author of "Healthcare Made Easy". It is recommended that at least during the winter when the effect is greater, you avoid sweets and sugars as much as possible because sugar prevents white blood cells from "suffocating" the bacteria and viruses that harm our bodies. According to Katz, women are advised to consume less than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day, and men less than 9 teaspoons of sugar. For comparison, a 12 oz can of soda contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar.
In a hospital - a place where the air is usually full of bacteria - fresh air from the outside is a necessary thing that makes people feel good. Claire Schuster, a nurse in a New York hospital, notes that when she takes the bus home, she gets off one stop before she's supposed to and walks the rest of the distance home. "This is an important and good habit to get into, even if you feel exhausted after a long day of work," she says.
According to a study conducted at Appalachian State University, a 30-45 minute walk increases the number of immune cells that move in the blood, reducing the risk of getting sick by 40 percent, and if you avoid going out on cold winter days, you should know that the reason why many of us get sick in the winter is not necessarily because of cold weather, but the fact that we spend more time in enclosed spaces because of it. Of course, you do not have to go outside if you’re freezing, but you should air your house out often to make sure the air is well circulated.
When was the last time you cleaned your washing machine? "Bacteria likes warm, dark, and moist places, so your washing machine could harbor germs, especially over time," said Shawn Westadt Mueller, RN, director of infection prevention and control at Medstar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. Her advice is to pour 2 tablespoons of white vinegar into the softener compartment and run the machine on a "clean" cycle.
Our bodies need time to relax so that they can recover from anything that might harm them. Claire Schuster notes that she uses all her vacation days to avoid as much stress and burnout as possible, and even a study in Finland backs her up. According to the study, workwear is directly associated with an increased risk of disease. Schuster is in the minority since most of us don’t take advantage of all our vacation days. If you have a large number of unused vacation days, you can distribute them throughout the year and take vacations every few months, doing something different and new that will refresh you and your body.
60-70% of our immune system activity takes place in the intestines, and as Alexander Rinehart, a certified nutrition specialist likes to put it, "Your gut is a barrier between the outside world and your body's internal world." This barrier is covered in healthy bacteria that prevent infections. These friendly bacteria help us break down food and also prevent diseases from the food they break down before it is absorbed into the body. In many studies, it has been found that probiotics supplements help prevent colds, but beyond consuming probiotics in pill form there are many different ways to go about it such as through your food.
Meeting with a psychologist and writing a journal are some of the ways that Ashley Leak Bryant, Ph.D., RN, OCN, an assistant professor at the UNC School of Nursing in Chapel Hill, helps free herself from the stress of her work, as well as anxieties and fears that come along with it. Ashley works in a department that treats cancer patients and faces various difficult challenges every day. She says these habits are vital for her, and many studies confirm this. According to a study at the University of Texas, journal writing helps to strengthen the cells of the immune system, and another study showed that the same action can also reduce symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
"After moderate to intense exercise—say, running for 40 to 60 minutes without stopping—there is a 72-hour window during which your body is severely distressed, and that's a time when people are susceptible to getting sick," says Dr. Scott Weiss, who has treated athletes in the NFL, NHL, WNBA, and was part of the sports medicine team at the Athens and Beijing Olympic Games.
A study conducted at Appalachian University found that too much exertion increases the chances of athletes suffering from diseases related to the upper respiratory tract due to increased secretion of epinephrine and cortisol hormones which cause changes in the functioning of the immune system. If you regularly exercise, avoid exerting the body 72 hours after the end of a difficult and arduous workout or stick to lighter exercises that can also strengthen your immune system.
This may sound trite, but an optimistic approach can indeed strengthen the immune system. In a study published in 2006, the researchers gave nasal influenza drops to 193 participants between the ages of 21-55 and found that the more optimistic people got far less sick than those who were pessimistic, and they even recovered faster. Optimism also helped Paige Roberts, a nurse, and director of a surgical ward at a hospital in New York, who at the end of each working day writes, along with the other nurses, good things that happened to them that day in a joint notebook.
After four years of doing this, Paige and her team wrote about 7,000 good things that happened to them. "The more you reflect on positive things, the more you see them," Roberts says. You don’t have to keep such a notebook yourself, its more than enough to mentally make note of something good that happened to you each day, doing so will help you maintain a more optimistic attitude and get sick less.