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posted: 1/6/2014 5:45 AM

How pros stay healthy in the cold-and-flu season

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By Gabriella Boston
Special To The Washington Post

Along with doctors and child-care providers, fitness trainers are on the front lines of flu and common cold exposure. Early mornings, sneezing clients and grimy gym environments are just a few of the culprits.

In other words, fitness trainers who stay healthy this season can probably teach us a thing or two. Here's their advice.

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Wash your hands

Juliet Stovall, a personal trainer at Washington's Vida gym, says she can't even remember her last cold and credits that partly to her hand-washing habits.

"I wash my hands all the time," says Stovall, who also teaches yoga and group fitness classes. "And when I am in the gym I use the wipes to wipe off equipment and weights before and after using them."

Sound too simple to be true?

Not really.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand-washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of illnesses. Remember: Wet, lather, scrub (at least 20 seconds), rinse and dry. Done.

Jenny DeMarco, a personal trainer and nutrition coach, says in the winter she pays extra attention to where she's putting her hands. "I can't afford to get sick, so I am very much aware of what my hands are doing every minute," says DeMarco, who estimates it's been more than four years since she last had a cold.

It's important to avoid touching one's mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands, because that's where those microscopic bacterial droplets can enter the body.

Eat well, drink water

It's frigid out, and the last thing you want is a cold glass of water. But you still need to hydrate.

"Sometimes people forget to hydrate in the winter because it's cold and they don't sweat as much or they don't perceive that they sweat as much," Stovall says. "But I try to stick with drinking at least 100 ounces a day."

Stovall's hydration consists of water, energy drinks and tea.

DeMarco, who lugs around a gallon jug of water wherever she goes, says she drinks up to two gallons of water each day and eats lots of fruits and vegetables that have a high water content.

She also drinks freshly squeezed lemon juice with warm water in the morning and takes magnesium at night.

"Lemons have a very concentrated amount of vitamin C that your body can absorb effectively in warm water." Vitamin C has been shown to have benefits for skin, bones, tissues and more, and some studies have shown that it can lessen the duration of colds. Magnesium affects muscle and nerve function and energy production.

Staying well-hydrated is part of overall health -- not just cold and flu prevention.

DeMarco says that along with hydration, food preparation and planning become extra important during the holiday season, with all of its parties and their less-than-stellar nutritional offerings.

"Sticking with good habits even during the holidays makes you feel really good," says DeMarco, who usually eats six small meals a day. "Yes, it can be challenging to 'be good,' but it's worth it."

Keep your distance

The ideal situation would be for sneezing, coughing or possibly feverish people to stay home from work and the gym to avoid infecting others. But this isn't something a personal trainer (or, outside the gym, a cubicle mate or restaurant customer) might feel comfortable saying. So if a client is sneezing and coughing, DeMarco says she will politely step back a little.

"I don't hesitate to put a little bit of space between them and me," she says. "You have to do what you can to avoid immediate exposure."

Sleep

Good sleep -- like hydration and good eating -- is part of an overall healthful lifestyle, but it is especially important when the body is surrounded by germs waiting and wanting to spread, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

DeMarco logs eight to nine hours every night. Adrienne Penebre, a yoga instructor at Results gym on Capitol Hill in Washington who also has a business helping people with mobility and movement issues, gets at least nine hours a night.

"Getting enough sleep is key for me -- particularly in the winter," Penebre says. "In fact, during the holidays, if I eat a lot of sugar and don't get enough sleep, I know I will get sick."

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