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AARP The Magazine

7 Ways to Beat a Cold

How to take this common virus head on — at any time of the year

Fighting the cold and flu season

Great tips and tricks for fighting the cold virus. — Getty Images

En español l Most adults fight two to four colds every year. If you've been having trouble getting rid of that lingering virus, try these surprising tips and tricks.

1. Get a move on

You don't want to be training for the Olympics, "but taking a walk or doing a light workout at the gym actually helps reduce your symptoms," says William Schaffner, M.D., chair of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests this rule of thumb: If symptoms are neck up, it's okay to engage in a light workout. If they are below the neck, stay in bed until you're feeling better. Research shows that regular exercise also helps ward off colds.

2. Say no to ibuprofen

New research from the UK's University of Southampton found that those who take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) are significantly more likely than those who take acetaminophen to return to the doctor with unresolved or worsened symptoms. Ibuprofen's anti-inflammatory properties may interfere with the body's immune system, according to study author Paul Little, M.D. And instead of multisymptom cold relievers, take individual products to match your symptoms — decongestants and antihistamines for nasal stuffiness, cough medicines for cough. (Avoid decongestants containing pseudoephedrine if you have atrial fibrillation or another heart arrhythmia.)

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3. Drink something hot

It's not folk wisdom anymore: Researchers from Cardiff University's Common Cold Centre reported that having a hot drink provided sustained relief from cold symptoms like runny nose, cough, sneezing and sore throat. Study authors say hot drinks promote salivation and mucus secretions that ease sore throat pain and other symptoms.

4. Be nice to the nose

Vigorous nose blowing can actually push mucus from the nose up into the sinuses, increasing a cold's severity or leading to a secondary sinus infection, say University of Virginia researchers. It's also best to blow each nostril separately.

5. Don't ask for antibiotics

They do nothing to the viruses behind colds and flu, and contribute to antibiotic resistance, Schaffner says. Yet, according to a new study from Harvard School of Medicine, doctors prescribed antibiotics to 60 percent of those with sore throats and 73 percent of those with bronchitis. Antibiotics should only be used when you have a streptococcus (strep) infection, the culprit in just about 10 percent of cases involving sore throat.

6. Get your zen on

People 50 and over who practiced mindfulness meditation had fewer and less severe colds, a recent University of Wisconsin study showed. Those who used the technique — which involves focusing inward on feelings, sensations and state of mind — racked up 257 sick days, compared to 453 in a control group.

7. Keep your toes toasty

Cold feet constrict the blood vessels in the upper airways, which reduces your defense against viruses, a Cardiff University study found. Ten percent of volunteers who plunged their feet into icy water came down with the sniffles, while none in a control group got sick.

Beth Howard is a freelance writer.

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