A change in the environment of an organism that can be picked up by one of the five senses.
Winter 2009: Washing Hands to Avoid Flu Almost Pointless
Author: Jean Handwerk
Publish date:

Although the media constantly reiterates the advice to wash hands frequently to avoid cold and flu viruses, washing hands often is not necessarily effective. That’s because you will still have to turn off the water, touch the doorknob, pick up your cell phone, or type on your keyboard—all things that have been touched by unwashed hands. The effects of handwashing are immediately undone.

There is a smarter way to prevent illness. It isn’t by repeatedly wiping everything down with antibacterial cloths or spraying with germicidal sprays. It isn’t by switching from the handshake to the fist-bump, although that’s not a bad start. And it isn’t by often coating our hands with antibacterial lotions. In fact, these lotions actually kill skin cells, and transmit other unhealthy ingredients into our bodies via absorption through our skin.

We all frequently touch surfaces and objects that are contaminated with the nasty critters: steering wheels, kids’ toys, chair backs, pens, light switches, closet doors, phones, copy machines, knobs and buttons on dashboards, microwave handles or stove knobs, and desk surfaces.

Exposure is impossible to avoid. Each one of us is no doubt exposed to viruses hundreds of times a day. That makes reducing exposure next to impossible, too, so beyond reasonable precautions and cleanliness, it should not overly concern us.

Here are some of the ways we expose ourselves to illnesses, and a few solutions for staying healthy:

1. First and Second Touches

We need an intelligent understanding of how viruses and bacteria are spread by touch. The first touch is not the main problem. That’s the touching of the contaminated surface. Viruses and bacteria do not enter our bodies through the skin unless we have broken skin, such as a cut or rash.

It’s the second touch that causes infection. That’s when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our mouths, eyes, or nose, which all contain mucous membranes that provide fertile, warm environments for the nasty invaders. About 80% of all infections occur under those circumstances. Most other infections are due to inhaled germs. Keep your hands away from your face, no matter what the circumstances are.

2. Closed Doors and Windows

We know that cold and flu rates increase in winter, but cold weather does not cause infections. Rather, the way we live in winter can make us sick!

We close windows and doors to conserve heat, and little fresh air comes into our homes. Since our cells need a constant supply of oxygen, we don’t do well in stale air. “Children who are accustomed to remain in close, heated rooms cannot have health” (HR 1.1.1873), and the same is true for adults. It is better to dress warmly and open the windows a crack, day and night, than to deprive brain and body cells of vital oxygen.

It is also quite amazing how easily the body can become accustomed to lower temperatures. Many people heat their homes no more than 65° F in winter and find that temperature very comfortable, as well as economical.

Fresh air will purify the blood, refresh the body, and help to make it strong and healthy. The invigoration produced will be reflected upon the mind, imparting to it tone and clearness, as well as a degree of composure and serenity. It gives a healthful stimulus to the appetite, renders the digestion of food more perfect, and induces sound, sweet sleep. Living in close, ill-ventilated rooms, weakens the system, makes the mind gloomy, the skin sallow, and the circulation feeble; the blood moves sluggishly, digestion is retarded, and the system is rendered peculiarly sensitive to cold. One should so accustom himself to fresh, cool air that he will not be affected by slight changes of temperature. Of course he should be careful not to sit in a draft or in a cold room when weary, or when in a perspiration (CTBH, 104).

3. Fashion Unfit for the Season

We should always be clothed comfortably and warmly. Never deprive yourself of the means of health because of fashion. In late fall and winter, women often continue to wear thin-soled shoes and lightly clothe their legs with sheer stockings or thin tights. This chills the lower extremities. It makes no sense to accumulate layers on the torso but leave the arms and legs mostly exposed.

The arms and legs become chilled in comparison to the torso, and the blood vessels constrict in those colder regions of the body. This constriction forces blood back into the internal organs and brain, burdening them with the excess. Neither brain nor organs work well under these circumstances, and disease can be the result. The work of the heart is especially increased as it tries to equalize blood flow throughout the system. Basically, the torso should have as many layers as the extremities, and the extremities should be kept warm.

4. Fear of Cold Weather

It’s rarely too cold to get outdoor exercise each day, even in the dead of winter. Proper dress once again is key. However, if our minds become dulled by stale air, we may not have much motivation to get outside—except to remove snow or ice as necessary. Once we make it a habit, though, we will receive greater health due to increased circulation, more oxygen to the cells, and the benefits of sunlight.

Set your will to do what you know is best to do. We are under obligation to our Creator to maintain our bodies in the best physical and mental condition we are capable of obtaining for it. And indeed, this has a direct effect on our immune system. Exercise facilitates the entire digestion process. Since 80% of our immune system is centered in our digestive systems, exercise is not something to be taken lightly.

The more we stay indoors, the more we breathe stale air and the more we are exposed to airborne viruses and bacteria. It’s no wonder the flu and the cold are more prevalent in winter. Everyone tends to huddle indoors. But if ever there was a time to optimize health with exercise and fresh air and sunlight, it is winter!

5. Overconsumption of Cooked Foods

Diet plays a large role in winter, too. We eat a good deal more cooked or baked food in winter than in summer, because fresh produce is more expensive. That means we are eating foods that have their vitamins and enzymes destroyed by heat, giving us less necessary nutrition at a time of year when our health is endangered the most. We must be sure to eat fruits and vegetables in as great a quantity as possible and as fresh as possible, when nutrient level is the highest.

Avoid, if possible, fruits and vegetables picked green and shipped long distances. Dehydrated and frozen fruits and vegetables, if eaten uncooked, have far more nutrients than canned produce. Canned or bottled juices have been pasteurized, which destroys their vitamins and nutrients. Water would be a better choice.

6. Rest but not in Peace

If we do not exercise and get exposure to sunlight, we do not sleep as well. The body has not been able to expel toxins from the cells sufficiently, and the resulting state of the body affects all aspects, including the peace of the brain. Sleep deprivation, if prolonged, leads to disease somewhere in the body. Despite the cold weather, get outdoors and move around.

Eating less than four hours before bedtime interferes with rest. The body is not able to fully rest as it is still engaged in digestive work, and if one part can’t rest, neither can the other parts fully do so, as we are an integrated system of organs.

7. Lack of Humidity

Viruses cannot thrive in homes or offices when the humidity is kept within an acceptable range. However, in winter that range is often not accomplished, due to heating systems which remove moisture from the air. Once again, our homes are against us in winter, unless we use our God-given common sense.

Whether we use in-system or portable humidifiers, kettles on stoves, or cracked-open windows, we need moisture to keep the mucous membranes of our noses moist enough to work. If the mucus in them dries, the cilia (tiny hairlike projections from certain cells in the respiratory tract that sweep in unison and help to sweep away fluids and particles) can’t function, and we end up with anything from post-nasal drip to lung difficulties such as in flus and colds.

In findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Oregon State researchers found that “outbreaks of influenza typically occur in winter when low absolute humidity conditions strongly favor influenza survival and transmission.”  In summer, we use air-conditioners to remove humidity from the air, but heated air needs to have moisture added to it.

Furthermore, if the humidity level is low in winter, a person will not feel warm even when the thermostat is set at an average temperature. This will result in turning the thermostat up to compensate, which will increase energy use and raise heat bills. It is wise to purchase a humidistat to monitor the humidity level in the home. A range between 35 to 50% is satisfactory. Finally, ensure adequate internal hydration by drinking plenty of fluids. In summer, fluids are lost through perspiration; in winter, through external dry heat.

8. Enclosed Spaces

When many people gather in enclosed spaces such as daycares, schools, public transit vehicles, and workplaces, the odds of airborne exposure increase. The poorer the air circulation, the greater the risk. Unfortunately, those spaces are unavoidable for most of us, and face masks are hardly ideal solutions.

Under normal circumstances, prevention is key. Focus on strengthening your immune system with sufficient rest and hydration, proper diet, outdoor exercise, and reduction of stress and worry. Anxiety and resentment wear down a body’s defenses, so try to avoid them. A quality vitamin-mineral supplement may be helpful as well. And whenever possible, reduce exposure.

Use Your Common Sense

A bit of common sense is fundamental to maintaining health, particularly as the weather cools down and the cold and flu season heats up.  A few simple steps can make all the difference.

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