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Healthier Together

Fall 2016 issue
Fall forward

Fall forward


Doctors share advice for staying healthy this fall

Fall often brings to mind falling leaves, football and Halloween — but the changing season also means chilly weather, germs and the arrival of colds and flu. To avoid sickness and ensure good health, it’s important to adjust your habits and lifestyle choices when the seasons change, said Susan Werner, MD, pediatrician with UVA Pediatrics Culpeper, and Trice Gravatte, MD, family medicine and primary care specialist at UVA Primary Care Family Care of Culpeper.

Fighting the flu

For example, Dr. Werner recommends that all patients ages 6 months or older get a flu vaccine this October. The nasal spray option, previously offered as a pain-free alternative to the shot, will not be offered this year due to concerns about how well it works, but parents should still make every effort to get their children immunized. And it’s not enough just to get the shot: Patients should get plenty of sleep the night before receiving the vaccine.

“Our bodies are much less effective without sleep,” Dr. Werner said. “We don’t produce the antibodies against vaccines when we’re sleep-deprived. So we tell patients they should have a good night’s sleep when they come in for their flu vaccine.”

A “good night’s sleep” is different for everyone. Preschoolers need 10 to 12 hours, grade school-age children need 10, middle schoolers need nine to 10, and high schoolers need eight to nine, according to Dr. Werner. Sleep can also help with immunity to other illnesses, as can diet. Dr. Werner suggests that everyone eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and eat plenty of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as eggs, walnuts, almonds, avocados, and sunflower and flax seeds).

Simple steps for better health

Dr. Gravatte also recommends some simple lifestyle changes to ensure good health. To prevent the spreading of germs, avoid direct contact as much as possible. One way to do that is to skip handshakes. What may seem like a simple and common greeting is an easy way to spread contagious diseases. “Even hugs are fine, but handshaking is a dirty exchange,” Dr. Gravatte said. “If people would simply use fist bumping or waving, and getting away from that palm-to-palm contact, that is a measurable way to decrease some diseases.”