As a parent, your family’s health is a top priority, and nothing feels better than knowing you’re taking the right steps to keep everyone healthy. That’s why we asked the experts for their advice on Ways To Keep Your Family Healthy, so you can feel confident that you’re doing everything you can to prevent sickness and promote wellness.
Hacking all night long. People with noses that run like a leaky faucet. The awful stomach flu. When you have kids, you must always deal with sickness, and stopping the spread of germs can seem impossible. “Within four hours of a child coming home with a virus on their hands, the virus had spread to 90 percent of the household’s touchable surfaces,” says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a microbiologist. Yikes!
Hold on before you give up hope; there are solutions to putting an end to them. Even though we can’t promise you won’t have any symptoms, these doctor-approved tips for staying healthy can help keep your whole family strong.
Tip #1: Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer.
You know that the best way to protect yourself from germs is to wash your hands often, but that is not enough. Dr. Gerba says, “Most people, both kids and adults, don’t wash their hands long enough or well enough to kill all the germs.” People should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, but studies have shown that the average is closer to 11 seconds.
Teach your children to continue until the soap and water have reached every corner of their hands, including the palms, the spaces between their fingers, and under their nails. Then, use a hand sanitizer to kill any still germs on your hands. The most effective hand sanitizer has alcohol in it, but if you don’t want to use it, you can still use one that doesn’t have alcohol.
Use a timer or sing “Happy Birthday” twice from beginning to end to ensure your child washes their hands for 20 seconds. This will kill germs.
Dr. Gerba says, “Our research shows that using hand sanitizer once to three times a day cuts contamination in the home by more than 90%.” It also helps to use liquid soap instead of soap bars, which can hold onto germs. Use a paper towel to wipe your hands, or provide each family member with a hand towel.
When you should wash and disinfect your hands the most: When a family member comes home from school, work, the backyard or playground, a birthday party, or just about anywhere else because they’ve picked up new germs.
When else should you wash your hands?
- Before, while, and after cooking.
- Before you eat something.
- Use both before and after providing medical attention to a sick person.
- Before you treat a cut or wound and after you do.
- After going to the bathroom.
- After changing a child’s diaper or cleaning up after they’ve gone to the bathroom.
- Whenever you blow your nose, cough, or sneeze.
- When you touch an animal, its food, or its waste.
- After touching pet food or treats, wash your hands.
- After getting dirty with trash.
Tip #2: Disinfect as often as possible.
Most people will say the toilet seat is the dirtiest place in the house, but the kitchen counter, sink, and sponge are more contaminated because they collect germs from meat, produce, and our hands.
Use wipes or sprays that kill germs to clean these surfaces often, and use paper towels instead of sponges to wipe down counters and bathroom surfaces. Sponge cleaners can kill germs by putting them in the microwave for one to two minutes after each use. Don’t forget shower sponges, either. Those cute poufs you use to clean yourself can get pretty dirty.
If you think that’s a lot of work, think about this: Researchers were surprised to find that putting a kitchen sponge in the microwave killed more bacteria than using chemicals like bleach, lemon, or deionized water alone. And each year, about 48 million Americans get sick from food, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So, a good way to avoid getting sick is to keep your kitchen as clean as possible.
And that’s not all: Dr. Dyan Hes, a pediatrician in New York City, says that electronics can be places where germs spread quickly. “Cleaning devices and controllers with disinfectant wipes often is a good idea, even in months when the chance of colds and the flu is lower.” Your family’s cell phones may be the worst offenders here because they go everywhere with them, making the germs they carry more mobile.
Even old, low-tech toys need to be cleaned: When a child in the house is sick, wash soft toys in the washing machine and other toys in the dishwasher or use disinfectant wipes.
There are often more germy things to clean and disinfect, such as:
- Door handles
- Stove knobs
- Handles for the refrigerator and microwave
- Faucet handles
- Switches for lights
- Stands for toothbrushes
- Bowls and toys for pets
Tip #3: Clear the Air
The spread of disease is increased throughout the winter because people spend more time indoors, in close quarters, and because heaters recycle the same air year after year. Dr. Hes says to take advantage of unusually warm days and open the windows to air out your home. An air purifier is the next best thing if you can’t do that.
If you use an air purifier, choose one with a HEPA filter and replace the filter as directed; otherwise, it will just recirculate the same airborne contaminants. Dry air helps bacteria to thrive for longer, so a humidifier is another option worth considering; the moister air will assist with coughs and congestion.
The American Lung Association says that if you don’t keep your home’s air clean, it can be bad for your health. Here are some suggestions for maintaining healthy air quality:
- Keep surfaces from getting moldy.
- Avoid smoking indoors.
- By vacuuming often, you can cut down on dust and pet dander.
- Clean your carpets and furniture often.
- Use a fan when painting, cooking, or moving furniture that stirs up dust.
A NASA study found that houseplants can improve the quality of the air inside by removing pollutants. Just be careful when choosing houseplants because some of them are dangerous for kids and pets.
Tip #4: Don’t share food or drinks.
Dr. Nancy Broady Lataitis, a pediatrician in Denver, says, “Even when we feel fine, our mouths are full of germs and viruses.” “As it grows, a bad germ might not make you sick for another 24 hours. You may have antibodies that protect you from getting sick from that germ, but the person in your family who just took a sip may not have the same protection.”
“Don’t share drinks, utensils, or other things that come in contact with saliva as much as you can. Also, before giving it to your child, don’t put the pacifier in your mouth to “clean” it,” she goes on. Dr. Lataitis also says that kids should bring their own water bottles to school, so they don’t have to use the water fountain.
Tip #5: Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.
A healthy diet helps maintain a strong immune system that can fend against viral and bacterial diseases. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can be found in lean proteins and a colorful diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
It’s also important to drink lots of water, as this aids in the transportation of oxygen to cells, facilitates the kidneys’ ability to eliminate waste products, and stimulates the production of lymph, a fluid that transports white blood cells throughout the body to fight against infections.
Reducing your family’s added sugar intake is also vital to remaining healthy. Dr. Danoff explains that much sugar decreases the immune system’s ability to fight off disease because it causes persistent inflammation. Sugars that exist naturally in whole foods like fruits and vegetables are perfectly healthy; the added sugars in things like sodas, processed meals, and candy cause health problems. You should read nutrition labels and limit your daily sugar intake to no more than 25 grams (6 tablespoons).