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Battling influenza, a.k.a. the flu, isn't a pleasant experience. The fever, body aches, fatigue and runny nose can make you feel lousy. Each year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 people die from flu complications.

Protect yourself and others with these flu-fighting tips:

Get vaccinated

A yearly flu vaccine is the first and most important step to protect against the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The vaccine is especially important for people at high risk for flu complications, such as young children; pregnant women; people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease; people 65 and older; health care workers; and people who live with, or care for, high-risk people.

Get moving

Research shows that regular exercise boosts your immune system and decreases your risk of getting colds and the flu. If you do get sick, exercise can cut the number of days you're out of commission in half. How? Physical activity may help flush pathogens from the lungs, which could lower your chances of getting a cold or the flu. Exercise also sends antibodies and white blood cells (the body's defense cells) through the body more quickly to detect illnesses faster. Aim for at least 2 1/2 hours of activity a week.

Take time to snooze

Sleeping is your body's way of recharging your immune system. The neurons that control sleep work closely with your immune system. Cytokines, the chemicals your body produces while fighting infection, are powerful sleep inducers, which explains why you're so tired when you're battling a bug. On average, most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

Wash your hands

Proper and frequent hand-washing is the best way to prevent colds and the flu. Use warm water and soap, scrub your hands for at least 15 to 20 seconds and rinse them well. No water around? Use an alcohol-based hand-sanitizing gel that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

Eat right

You know that a good diet is important for your overall health. But did you know that a poor diet actually lowers your immunity and makes you more vulnerable to infection? Be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein and don't forget to drink water to stay hydrated.

Dr. Joe Citta is a family medicine physician with Columbus Family Practice.

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