Health Doesn’t Have a “Look”

Have you ever looked at a person and thought to yourself, “wow they’re really fit (aka healthy)”? Or maybe the inverse has happened where you’ve looked at someone less fit and made the judgment that they were unhealthy. Don’t worry if you have, it’s pretty normal and you are not alone in this regard.

There’s this misguided ideal that you can tell whether a person is “healthy” from the way they look. See a fat person = unhealthy. See a skinny person = healthy. See a fit person = super healthy. While size, shape and/or look can sometimes give insight to health, it isn’t the sole determinant of health and there’s so much that goes on beneath the surface.

This is a common image, I went through hundreds, if not thousands, of similar images all depicting the idea that health and weight/size are the same thing.

Size doesn’t show how active a person is, whether that person smokes or drinks excessively, or the general lifestyle that a person lives. Size doesn’t tell you whether that person is living with an illness or disease, or whether they’re happy or sad. And most of all, size doesn’t tell you how dedicated vs lazy a person is. Weight and size only tell you that, weight and size.

Someone told me something that put things into perspective in this regard. Imagine driving along and noticing somebody walking down the street. This person is noticeably overweight. Many people would look at that person and follow a train of thought similar to the opening paragraph. The person was unhealthy and unfit, maybe going so far as to call them lazy or uncaring about their health. What you may not realize, or may not be able to tell from looking at them, is this person has been on a weight loss and health focused journey for some time, losing 100lbs already. They’ve been active during their daily life, spending 3-4 days per week in the gym, and have improved many of their lifestyle habits to improve their health. So, while their physical appearance may not show it (or tell the whole story), they are living an active and healthy lifestyle that has led to marked improvements in their health. Remember that the next time you make a snap judgment about someone based on the way they look (and remember that it’s ok, judging is natural but we should be mindful of and redirect those judgments).

Now, I want to point out that there’s a lot of research that points to the contrary, making weight and thus, size, the sole predictor of health. Head over to PubMed and check out the meta-analysis (data gathered from numerous studies/research following certain criteria for accuracy to weight a large bulk of evidence) titled: The Medical Risks of Obesity. In it they have gathered data from numerous studies between the years of 1995 and 2008 to draw a clearer picture on the risks of excess weight and disease (one portion of health). The stats are staggering, showing that the risk of nearly every disease is increased with an increase in BMI (body mass index) past a “healthy range”. This study, along with numerous others, paints a pretty clear picture: obesity is linked to health risks and disease. [3]

This chart shows the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and “other” causes. The top chart is for men and the bottom chart is for women.

The problem with BMI is that it’s a very basic and simple formulation for generating a number on health, which is anything but basic or simple. Health is a culmination of so many variables, including but not limited to, how active a person is, how much stress they have and how well they manage it, a person’s nutrition and hydration, how well a person sleeps, overall mental health, and much, much more. To sum up health with a number that is based entirely off of weight in comparison to height, while necessary for the medical and research fields, is a bit flawed.

For instance, I am 6 feet tall and currently weight about 213lbs. That puts my BMI at 29, making me “overweight” and just short of the “obese” cutoff of 30. Anyone who knows me or takes a look at me (there we go with judging a book by its cover again), would laugh at me being classified as overweight, much less nearly obese.

In fact, for me to get into the “normal” BMI classification I would have to lose nearly 30lbs and get down to 184lbs. Not only would this be terribly unhealthy in practice, it’s likely impossible without losing about 5-10lbs of muscle, which would mean losing a vital component to health. Muscle aids in metabolic function (improving insulin resistance and sensitivity, and increasing caloric expenditure), reduces the likelihood of osteoporosis, and increases chances of survival from critical illness or injury, like cancer or extreme burns. So, while losing weight may be a good thing, losing muscle certainly is not. [1,4]

While BMI can give us some indication on overall risk of disease and health, it’s not a conclusive depiction and thankfully, researchers have realized this and found alternative ways to measure health. In another meta-analysis, researchers looked at a different variable on the link to risk of disease: cardio-respiratory fitness. And what they found was interesting. Through the analysis researchers found that cardio-respiratory fitness was a better predictor of disease risk than BMI. In fact, “compared to normal weight-fit individuals, unfit individuals had twice the risk of mortality regardless of BMI. Overweight and obese-fit individuals had similar mortality risks as normal weight-fit individuals“. [2] What this means is that regardless of size, those who were considered fit from a cardio-respiratory aspect had less risk of disease than those who were “normal weight” individuals but lacked cardio-respiratory fitness. In other words, playing the part of health and fitness proved more important than looking the part.

It’s hard to say which basis of information is right. Is health a result of your weight or your cardio-respiratory fitness? The truth is, it’s a combination of the two with lifestyle factors and environment playing a large role as well. That’s why it’s important to remember that health is extremely nuanced, and rarely a black and white topic. The most important point to remember when it comes to health it isn’t so much about what you look like, but rather it’s more about the actions that you take, the habits you maintain, and the lifestyle you live. So, rather than worrying about looking a certain way, or being a certain weight for health purposes, focus on living a healthy life, which includes:

  1. Eating a diet rich in whole foods like lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats
  2. Exercising and moving in your daily life. Aim for at least 3 days of specific exercise each week (45+ minutes), and move throughout the day.
  3. Drinking plenty of water and stay adequately hydrated throughout the day. Your pee should be a lightl yellow color most of the day.
  4. Sleeping at least 6 hours a night. 7-9 is the preferred range, but anything less than 6 comes with increased health risks.
  5. Managing stress. Read, go for a walk, listen to or play music, draw, meditate, etc. Find activities that help you reduce and manage stress and make sure you do them frequently.

If you’re looking to improve your health in a safe, healthy and manageable way, something that you can enjoy and sustain for life, send an email to achievefitllc@gmail.com to discuss a plan that will help you feel your best, be your healthiest, and enjoy your life to the fullest!

Citations

[1] Abramowitz, M. K., Hall, C. B., Amodu, A., Sharma, D., Androga, L., & Hawkins, M. (2018). Muscle mass, BMI, and mortality among adults in the United States: A population-based cohort study. PloS one13(4), e0194697.

[2] Barry, V. W., Baruth, M., Beets, M. W., Durstine, J. L., Liu, J., & Blair, S. N. (2014). Fitness vs. fatness on all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis. Progress in cardiovascular diseases56(4), 382-390.

[3] Pi-Sunyer, X. (2009). The medical risks of obesity. Postgraduate medicine121(6), 21-33.

[4] Wolfe, R. R. (2006). The underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease. The American journal of clinical nutrition84(3), 475-482.

When to Hold Em, and When to Fold Em: Knowing When to Walk Away

Letting go is arguably the most difficult thing to do. Whether it’s in a game of cards and you have a hand you love, or in the game of life where you have a person you love, learning when to let go and following through is extremely difficult. I know, because I’ve had to let go of some amazing people and although it is never easy, it’s one of the healthiest things I’ve done to further my happiness and life.

Over the past week I’ve had multiple conversations with friends, family, and clients about letting go of people and situations that were no longer serving them. That statement may seem a bit selfish, and with good reason, because protecting your mental health and well-being is a me first process. This doesn’t mean you are a selfish person, but rather that you understand to be the best you, you must be protective over yourself, your mental health, and your overall well-being.

What I’ve realized through these conversations, and through my own life’s journey, is that we never really know when to let go and that there’s no “right time” to let go because each person and situation is different. Topple that with the fact that most of us feel, or are taught, that letting go is a form of giving up and to “never give up” and you’ve got a recipe for settling and putting up with people that is unhealthy at best. The story that follows is one that taught me a lesson on how to let go, and allowed me to see that it’s ok to let go.

This is the story of the ultimate bromance. A friendship that changed lives, shook the world, and taught me how to respect my mental health and well-being enough to walk away from someone and something I loved. It’s part story, part lesson and partially me working through my emotions toward a situation from my past. I thank you in advance for reading, and I think you’ll find benefit from doing so.

College is one of the most fun and challenging times in an adult’s life. You’re (usually) still living on mom and dad’s dime, trying to figure out who you are, and find some semblance of purpose as you go along. It’s a period of rapid, and sometimes uncomfortable, growth. For me, college was all of that and more. It was a wild roller coaster ride that I was scared would only end when it came to a crashing halt. That crashing halt was a self-fulfilling prophecy that eventually came, but that’s a story for another time. Today, we are talking about a friendship that taught me self-respect, love, and knowing when to talk away.

Everyone has that one friend. The one who has made such a profound impact on their life, it’s hard to sum up exactly what they mean to you. Some of us find that person young and others find them later in life. Some will hold onto that friendship forever, and others, like myself, will have that friendship long enough to teach us what we were meant to learn before walking away.

For this story’s sake, I’m going to give my friend a name to protect his privacy. That name will be David. David and I met early on in college, the first week of our first semester to be exact, and like they say with all good things that are meant to be, “the rest was history”. However, the history is where the good stuff lies and where lessons can be learned, so it’s there that we turn our attention.

I remember the day we met like it was yesterday. It’s weird to remember something so vividly like that, where it’s not just the saying “I remember it like it was yesterday”, but rather, you actually remember it in such detail that it felt like it just happened.

We were both sitting alone in the cafeteria, enjoying our less than stellar college dorm room cafeteria dinner, when we made eye contact. David was far more outgoing between the two of us at the time (funny enough, this changed drastically throughout our friendship) and so he waved and invited me over to sit with him. As faith would have it, my introverted and shy self decided, against all warning signs to the contrary, to take him up on the offer and headed over to sit with him.

In a matter of minutes and a short conversation later, we quickly became friends. There was no awkwardness, no ego driven defensive walls that would’ve slowed the building of our relationship, just open conversation and connection that’s rare to find as adults. It’s funny how some people just click like that, like the universe itself would struggle to keep them apart, but that was us, just two guys who were meant to be friends and travel the road of life together.

During our years in college, our friendship only grew stronger. In a place and time in life where most people pick up and drop friends like newspapers, we were different. We had something special that we both knew would outlast college and stick with us for life. It gave us peace of mind knowing where the other person stood, and trusting in our friendship to always be there. It also gave us confidence, because we felt like we didn’t need anyone or anything if we had each other.

I know, I know it all sounds like a bit more than a friendship. Many people started to get that idea, especially when we would turn down offers of dates with beautiful girls, because we preferred to spend time with each other. Think what you want, but our relationship was entirely platonic, we just enjoyed each other’s company more than we could imagine enjoying anyone else’s.

Imagine never knowing you had a sibling, then one day finding out, seeking them out, and realizing that they were exactly who and what you needed your entire life. That was what David and I were to each other, long lost brothers who filled in all the little spaces and voids that life had created along the way.

After college ended, or at least our time on campus, we went our separate ways. I moved back to my hometown and picked life back up there, while he moved back to his and started a job there. We were over 2 hours away from each other and most friendships or relationships wouldn’t be able to handle the distance. Like I said though, our friendship was different.

Our friendship didn’t skip a beat, even with the distance between us. We would talk or text nearly every day and see each other at least once a month. We were determined not to lose each other like most people do, simply because life (careers, relationships, etc) and distance got in the way. It took a hell of a lot more effort, but you don’t mind putting forth that effort when you know you’re investing in something that is beneficial and yields quality returns. Things between us were really good for quite some time, but like the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end”.

Our friendship ended nearly as abruptly as it started, in the same sort of “the universe is pulling the strings” as when we first met. While the end was quick and clean, the decline that led to the eventual end was anything but that.

Overtime we grew apart. I was fighting to get my life back on track, regain my mental health, and battle demons that I had been hiding from for a long time. I needed time and space to be a little bit selfish and take care of myself, and so my role in the demise of our friendship is strong.

David didn’t understand why I needed time and space. He didn’t understand working on yourself, because he never really had to. You see, we came from totally different lives. He came from money, power and family recognition, while I came from a lot of turmoil and struggle. He was raised by two parents, and money was never a worry, while I was raised by a single mother who fought every single day to provide for us. In many ways, he didn’t know much about hardship, but for me, hardship was like a worn-out pair of shoes, it was the norm.

These differences initially allowed us to mesh and connect, like two jagged puzzle pieces that fit just right, but over time those puzzle pieces started to change and deform. As he became more rigid in who he was, unyielding to growth and change, I became more fluid and adaptable, understanding that to live the life I wanted to live and be the person I wanted to be, change was my only option. He continued down a path that we had started to blaze in college, laced with drugs, alcohol and a focus on a social life, while I was met with a fork in the road and difficult decisions. Where he went right, I went left and that was the beginning of the end.

As months went by, our relationship grew more and more distant. It wasn’t just the physical distance between us, but rather the emotional and mental distance that’s put between two people when one chooses to change and grow, and the other refuses to admit the need to grow, that really strained our relationship. Much like when friends and family give my clients a hard time about making positive changes to their health, he wasn’t happy that I was trying to make positive changes to my life. It’s hard to stick around someone, when they’re a constant reminder of what you’re not doing, and I think that’s what I was for him, a reminder of the changes he needed to make, but refused to.

My mom raised me as a never give up, don’t quit, fighter. So, while in my mind I knew where our relationship was headed, I also knew I was going to fight like hell not only for our friendship, but also for David who needed someone to fight for him. I have a hard time giving up on people, and I always try to see the best in them and give them second, third, and fourth chances, even to my own demise. David was no different, and I probably fought too hard and too long.

There were tons of warning signs, plenty of situations, and loads of reasons why I should’ve walked away from our friendship far sooner than I did, but I just kept reminding myself of the good that was inside him and how much I missed seeing that. Unfortunately, drugs and addiction had a strong hold on him and his life and had other plans. He went from a happy. and outgoing guy that everyone wanted to be around, to someone who isolated himself, shut the world out, and became extremely selfish. It was hard to talk to him or be around him, because I remembered him for who and what he was, and it angered me to see who he had become.

Over time, things progressively got worse. I saw him less and less, and the drugs grabbed hold of him more and more. What was once a recreational habit to spice up the boring nights at a private university, became an obsession for him. I began worrying not only for his health, but more so for his safety as I knew he was interacting with dangerous people to get his fix, and putting others at risk when driving under the influence.

Despite all of this, I still tried. I tried to maintain our friendship. I tried to be there for him and support him. And I tried to help him. If you know anything about addiction, you know that it doesn’t matter how hard you try, how much you care, or how much time you spend. Until the person decides to make a change for themselves, change won’t happen.

They say an addict needs to hit rock bottom before they realize that change needs to happen, but I think the same can be true of most every situation, relationships included. Change only happens when things get bad enough that you are hit with the realization that they need to change, and that there is no other option, and my realization about our friendship was about to happen.

I got a call from David, frantic and emotional. It wasn’t unusual, most of the calls I received at this point were when he was emotional and/or needed something. I picked up, promising myself that I wouldn’t go out of my way to help him, unless he was ready to help himself. He wasn’t, but I did.

David had just quit his job. Rather, he had been forced out. He was working for a company and driving a company car that he ended up wrecking. The company gave him the choice of walking away, and keeping his record clean, or sticking around where they were required to drug test him. Knowing that drugs would show up on his test, David decided to walk away from the job.

The choice to walk away from the job was easy for David, but dealing with all of the stress and emotions that came with that decision were not, so he called me. And being supportive, and slightly naive, I of course answered and agreed to let him visit for the weekend to “clear his head and figure out a plan”. I was worried that if I didn’t answer, or didn’t support him, things would just turn even worse.

About 2 hours later here David was. Emotional, stressed, and I was hoping, at “rock bottom”. He seemed to be clear headed and clean, although it was difficult to tell at the time. We hugged, chatted a bit and things felt like they were going to get back to “normal”. I had no idea how wrong I was.

At the time I was living at home with my mom, along with my older sister and her then 3-year-old son. My family all loved David and would do anything for him, so we always had a place for him to stay if he needed it. This was no different and so my family and I welcomed him with open arms.

The day went as usual. He was open and updated us on what was going on with his life. He seemed to be in a good place mentally, and wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable with his current struggles. He was cracking jokes, laughing, and acting like the old David would. Unfortunately, it was all a facade.

David was in no way clean. He was nowhere near clear headed. And he wasn’t back to his old self. The person we saw and were around in the daytime, was a character he had built to navigate daily life and make people think that he had his shit together. What happened later that night would show me how wrong I was, and how bad of a place he was in.

That night, after having a seemingly normal day David and I went our separate ways. I went to my bedroom, and he went to the spare bedroom across the hall. I went to bed feeling good about letting him visit and what the future held in store for him, and our friendship. That good feeling only lasted a few hours.

I woke up in the middle of the night to loud noises, random banging, and someone talking in a loud and slightly aggressive manner. I quietly exited my room, crept down the stairs, and unsure of what I would encounter, prepared for the worst. Instead of a robber or murderer being in my house, it was David. He was alone, talking to himself angrily and there was a mess everywhere. I approached him cautiously, realizing he was likely under the influence, and asked if he was alright.

It was funny how quickly he shifted his personality, going from angry and intoxicated, to kind and gentle in a matter of moments. It showed me how long he had been putting on the facade of “being alright” and how easy it was for him to switch that flip when he felt it was necessary.

I explained to him how late it was, how loud he was being, and that both my family and I would really appreciate it if he could keep it down and head back to bed. He agreed, and followed me up the stairs. Once again, we parted ways, but this time those good feelings I felt before were gone.

Luckily, things stayed calm the rest of the night, but everything was not calm behind closed doors. It turns out that David had overdosed, to the point of throwing up all over himself and the guest room he was sleeping in, and that was why he was up in the middle of the night. He was angry because he knew he was going to get caught, and was banging around downstairs trying to figure out how to clean himself and the bedroom he had puked in without anyone knowing.

The next morning, I had one of the most difficult conversations of my life. I knew what I had to do, and I knew it couldn’t wait, but naturally I wanted to stall for as long as possible. I waited until the house cleared out, and David and I could talk alone. Then, I had the conversation that would change our friendship, and my life, forever.

I eased into the conversation, knowing what I wanted to say, but not knowing how to say it. I wanted to avoid conflict and I didn’t want to push him further away, but I knew I couldn’t let the previous night go. If there’s one thing that’s always been true about me it’s this: you can walk all over me, and I may or may not speak up, but if you walk over my family, put them in harm, or disrespect them, I can never let that go. And that’s what David had done. He had used my family, disrespected them, and more than anything, put my nephew at risk, and for that I could never forget or let it go. As badly as I wanted to avoid the conversation, he had crossed a line that I felt never should’ve been crossed, and so I had no choice.

The conversation went much as I expected. I brought up the events from the previous night, explained how they made me feel, and why I felt it was necessary to have the conversation we were having. I explained that I was worried for him and loved him, otherwise the conversation would not have happened and I would’ve simply kicked him out and been done with it. I expressed that I felt his drug use had become a problem, one that was affecting more than just his life, and that he needed to make a change and/or seek help. I said everything I felt I needed to say and wanted to say, giving myself the comfort of knowing that I didn’t hold anything back. One last time, I put my all into that failing relationship and again, the same wasn’t reciprocated.

David played the entire night off like it was no big deal. Sure, he had taken a few too many pills and gotten too intoxicated, but it was an accident, wasn’t the norm, and in no way showed that he had a drug problem. He was just struggling with the stress of losing his job and figuring out what’s next, and as a result, got a bit careless with his usage.

From there, the conversation only escalated from bad to worse. I refused to be swayed by his story, refused to let him play upon my emotions and love for him, and resolved to be heard and understood, or simply move on from it. During the short 30-minute conversation, the facade of friendly, got it all together, David had unraveled and his true personality, that which was driven by drugs, came forth. He got angry, not physically mind you, and defensive. He refused to accept that he had a problem, and refused to accept that the events from the night prior were offensive at all. All of the respect that I thought he had for me and my family disappeared during that conversation.

I realized that the conversation was only going to get worse if I continued down this path, so I realized it was time for me to let go and part ways with David. I told him that I loved him, and would always be there for him when he was ready to make a change, but that I couldn’t keep putting my own personal needs aside to try to help him, when he refused to help himself or admit the need for change. Surprisingly, he took it rather well, packed up and left shortly thereafter. That is the last time that I saw David, the last time I spoke to him verbally, and the very obvious end of our friendship.

After the fact, I struggled mightily with letting him and our friendship go. I missed him and I felt like I had let him down, by seemingly giving up on him. A part of me wanted to reach out to him, put his issues aside, and rekindle our friendship despite all that had been done. The better part of me, the rational side, realized how futile that would’ve been and vowed to keep a distance from him until he got help and grew from his situation.

As difficult as this realization was, as hard as it was to stay distant, I knew it was the best for both of us. I was just a crutch for his habits and issues, and he was a tie to a past I was trying to move away from. The only way we could ever hope to rekindle our friendship, and get back to the way things used to be, was time apart for reflection, growth and change.

As of today, it’s been over 4 years since we have spoken. I think about him often, still love him dearly, and I hope that his life is going well and he is happy. I hold out hope that one day we can rekindle things, but I also understand that there’s a lot of baggage, guilt and shame between that is difficult to bear. I love him despite his flaws, and hope he feels the same about me. Neither of us were perfect, and our friendship fell apart because of both of us, as all relationships do.

As with all things is life, there is always a lesson to be learned if you seek it out. This story is no different. Although I may have gained and lost the greatest friendship I could’ve asked for, I also gained far more than just that. The friendship taught me more about love and relationships than any other. It taught me what a quality relationship should look and feel like. It taught me how great friendships can be when the only boundaries are the healthy ones. More than anything though, it taught how to respect myself and my boundaries, and showed me it’s ok to walk away from something or someone that no longer serves you.

Here’s what I’ve realized through my journey when it comes to letting go and moving on:

  1. You must respect yourself, your boundaries and your health. If you don’t have self-respect and value yourself, you’re never going to realize the relationships and situations that are harming rather than helping you. A lot of pain and damage can be avoided, simply by respecting yourself enough to realize that some people and situations aren’t deserving of your time and energy.
  2. It’s ok to give up on things. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure or a bad person, just because you give up on someone or something. It doesn’t mean that you have caused whatever happens after the fact, as every person is responsible for their own life. Giving up on a person or situation that is no longer serving you in a positive way, is a healthy and necessary part of life.
  3. Listen to your gut. Your gut will often lead you in the right direction, if you listen to it honestly and clearly. My gut told me to walk away from that situation far sooner than I did, but my emotional self had to give it one more shot (multiple times). If I would’ve listened to my gut feeling, I may have been able to help us both avoid further pain and damage to our relationship.
  4. Say what you mean and feel. When you decide to let go of a person, or move on from a situation, you’re always going to have a feeling of “what if” after the fact. What if that was the last thing I say to them? Don’t hold anything back, speak from the heart and share your feelings. You will never regret sharing the way you feel, but you will likely regret it if you don’t. Get it all out, make sure that if it’s the last conversation you have, you say everything that you need and want to.

I hope that you never have to let go of someone that you love, but I’m almost certain that you will. Walking away from once good people or situations, is one of the most difficult things you will have to do, so I hope my story will give you the strength and determination you need to do so. If you are ever questioning a relationship or friendship that you have, ask yourself if you’re receiving as much as you’re giving and if the situation is ultimately serving your better purpose. If the answer is yes and yes, it’s worth fighting for, and if not, you may have to take a long, hard look at moving on.

Vitamin C for Colds, More like Vitamin B.S.

The cold has come, snow is falling, and as they say in Game of Thrones, “Winter is Coming” (more like it’s already here). With winter comes a whole host of changes: cold weather, hot drinks, and the dreaded common cold.

The common cold is the most frequent infectious disease that affects humans. Symptoms like coughing, sniffling, and runny noses, among other things, are common occurrences when dealing with a cold. It leads to an average of 12 sick days for adults, and over double that for children. That’s hundreds of missed days of work and school over a lifetime, and an increase in health care costs, so it’s no wonder that so many people want a solution to fight off the common cold. 

One of the most popular solutions, and where many people turn when they start to get the sniffles, is a Vitamin C supplement, like Emergen-C. The praise for supplements like Emergen-C is enough to make you believe that it can cure everything from the common cold to more serious issues like the flu.

But how truthful is that? What does the science say? 

If you’re interested in finding out more about Vitamin C, whether it has benefits for the common cold, and how you can do your best to avoid getting sick this winter, continue reading!

What is Vitamin C? Why is it so popular?

Vitamin C became popular nearly 50 years ago, when Nobel Prize winner Dr. Linus Pauling made public his theory of high doses of vitamin C being able to prevent and/or speed up the duration of the common cold. Since that time, vitamin and supplement companies have done their best to capitalize on a growing industry, backed by the words and ideals of a Nobel Prize winner.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that your body does not produce and thus must be ingested through diet or supplementation. It’s involved in various functions throughout the body, including the production of collagen and assistance with immune cells in fighting off disease. When someone is sick, Vitamin C is depleted from immune cells, making it Dr. Pauling’s theory about Vitamin C helping fight off and speed up the duration of common colds and other infectious diseases. Unfortunately, like many things, what seems logical in theory doesn’t pan out in practice.

Emergen-C, the most popular brand of “cold fighters”, was introduced in 1978, just a few short years after Dr. Pauling made his theories about Vitamin C known

The research behind Vitamin C is rather thorough, and pretty straight forward. When it comes to Vitamin C there are only a few scenarios where supplementation is beneficial. The only benefits for the average person come from either taking it daily (at least 200mg) or getting it naturally through your diet, or taking an absurd amount (8g or more). Getting your daily dose of Vitamin C, while important, will only reduce the average number of “sick days” every year by about one. While it’s nice to get that day back, it’s important to realize that if you eat a well balanced diet you are probably already getting plenty of Vitamin C and reaping the benefits.

As far as the higher dosage, which in some studies has been shown to reduce severity and duration of illness, it can come with nasty side effects like nausea, diarrhea and possibly kidney stones. Luckily, Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin, meaning that anything “extra” will be excreted through the urine and doesn’t pose toxicity issues like fat soluble vitamins and minerals. This doesn’t mean that you can ingest as much Vitamin C as you’d like without consequence, but that the consequences won’t be as severe as fat soluble vitamins. 

There is one very specific population that has shown marked improvement in severity and symptoms of common colds, but the average population doesn’t fall into this category. For those who exercise strenuously outdoors (marathon runners, cross country skiers, Armed Forces individuals), you may find that supplementing with Vitamin C (at least 200mg) will help you deal with less instances of colds, and for shorter duration, but again, if you’re eating a well balanced dieting you may already be hitting these numbers.

If Vitamin C doesn’t work, what does?

This is where things get a bit more boring, and a whole lot more practical. There are few things that will truly affect whether you get a cold or not, and how long that cold will last. None of them are as easy to take and easy to sell as Vitamin C though, which is why they get pushed to the side in search of other “cures”.

Sleep

Sleep is vitally important to your health and wellness, and it becomes even more important during the winter months when immune systems are constantly attacked by different viruses. I cannot stress to you enough how important getting both enough sleep, and quality sleep is. It will improve your immune system, and help protect you from colds and shorten the duration.

Sleep is your key to health and vitality, so prioritizing it is key. Try to get at least 6 hours of sleep every night, but 7-9 is more optimal. This means you have to plan ahead, and get in bed at a certain time to ensure you are getting enough sleep. You should also avoid electronics at least an hour before bed, keep your room somewhat cool, and avoid activities that are overly stimulating. Try to find an activity that calms both your mind and body to perform before bed like reading, writing, meditation, or stretching/yoga. These activities will help you unwind from a long day and signal to your body that it’s time for sleep.

Hydration

During the winter months, people tend to drink less water. It’s a result of the temperature dropping and not feeling the need to drink water the way we do during the summer months. I myself struggle with hydration during the winter months, and have to make a conscious effort to stay hydrated.

Lack of proper hydration, or worse, dehydration, has been shown to negatively affect numerous functions of the body. When it comes to warding of viruses and shortening the duration of those viruses, water plays an important role. It helps to boost immune function by delivering oxygen to immune cells and helping clean out waste and toxins. Hydration also aids in a quality night of sleep, as it helps to keep your nasal passages and throat moist so that breathing is easy and clear. 

To ensure that you are getting proper hydration, try to shoot for around 2/3 of your body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 200lbs, like me (at times), your goal should be to drink around 135oz of water. To make it a bit easier to reach your target goal, make sure to start your day with a large glass of water (20oz or more) and always have a water bottle with you. I like to use transition times, like driving to and from work or waiting in line, to catch up and get ahead on water by drinking as much as I can during those moments. 

Wash Your Hands

There is a reason that your mother always told you to wash your hands before dinner and after using the restroom, because washing your hands can be a huge deterrent for viruses. Washing your hands helps to remove germs that can cause sickness, and stats show that consistent washing of hands reduces the likelihood of the common cold by 15-20%. 

If you want to stay healthy this winter, do yourself a favor and get in the habit of washing your hands, especially while in public. Anytime you go to the bathroom, wash your hands afterward and always make sure to wash your hands before you eat. The pores in and around your face are extremely absorbent, so avoiding touching your face (noses, ears, eyes, mouth, etc) and keeping your hands clean is a great way to help keep the colds at bay. 

Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet

Getting a variety of whole foods that are rich in nutrients is a huge part of living a healthy lifestyle. Foods like fruits and vegetables can play a key role in providing your body with the vitamins and nutrients it needs to assist and optimize the functions of the body, including the immune system. To do your best in fighting off colds and viruses, make sure to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables from every color of the rainbow. The more variety, the better (in most cases). 

Even though we know that fruits and vegetables are extremely important for health, it’s very easy to not eat them. To make it easier to consume enough fruits and vegetables, make sure that you always have some prepped and on hand. That’s the great thing about fruits and vegetables, they don’t need to be cooked, which makes them easier to include in your diet than foods that must be prepared. You can also bake several different kinds of vegetables at once on cookie sheets and prepare all your weeks vegetables in a matter of 20-30 minutes. The important thing is to then make sure that you have them with you and eat them. Keep snack bags of fruit and vegetables that you can grab and go, or leave at work to make life just a bit easier. 

Stick to the Basics, Live Long and Healthy

As you can see, staying healthy and fighting off colds and sickness isn’t as glamorous or complicated as people would like to make it, but simple doesn’t sell well. Instead of spending money on “cold fighters” that don’t make any difference, try focusing on the basics of health that are time tested for success. Make sure you are getting plenty of quality rest, be sure to hydrate sufficiently, wash your hands, especially in public places and when eating, and focus on a balanced and wholesome diet that will provide all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. 

Do you have any favorite cold remedies or family traditions for when you’re sick? Comment below and let’s share our favorite ways to get over being sick (or at least make it feel more enjoyable)