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Alto’s Guide to Wellness in the New Year

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It’s easy to feel jaded about setting health goals for the new year. We often enter January with optimism and big intentions, only to find our new habits slipping within days or weeks. But let’s not give up on our health goals altogether. The sense of renewal at the start of the year can be a powerful motivator—provided we don’t saddle ourselves with unreasonable expectations and an “all-or-nothing” attitude. 

At Alto, we believe that staying on top of your health should be as simple as possible. That’s why we built a pharmacy that delivers medications and expert advice directly to you. Here’s how we’re applying this philosophy to feeling our best this winter and creating healthy habits that we can cultivate all year long. 

How to Set Goals That Stick

According to U.S. News & World Report, 80% of New Year's resolutions fail by mid-February. It’s not that we’re incapable of making meaningful changes. It’s that the way we’re accustomed to making resolutions doesn’t set us up for success. 

If you haven’t been exercising at all during quarantine, setting a goal to work out for an hour every day may not be practical. Instead, behavioral scientist, Susan Weinschenk Ph.D., outlines three critical steps for building new habits that stick: start with a small and specific action, tie it to an existing habit, and make it easy to accomplish during the first week. 

Rather than saying you’ll “exercise more” or become a hardcore workout enthusiast overnight, resolve to enjoy your morning coffee while walking, then increase your daily walk by ten minutes the next week. When you anchor your intention to an existing action, you give your brain a natural cue to put it into practice. And since the key to solidifying your new habit is repetition, starting with an easy action will create self-trust and allow you to expand on your goal over time. 

How to Lift Your Mood

During the darker winter months, you may find your mood dropping along with the temperature. According to the Mayo Clinic, these seasonal bouts of melancholy are likely related to reduced exposure to sunlight, which can upset your circadian rhythm and cause serotonin (the “happy hormone”) levels to dip. 

To combat the effects of winter depression, try to keep your home as bright as possible by keeping curtains and blinds open and sitting closer to well-lit windows when you can. Be sure to spend some time outside every day, even if the weather is cold or the sky is grey. The morning is an especially potent time to get outside and walk around. 

Though it is tempting to go into full hibernation mode, excess sleep can make the issue worse. Try to stick to your usual sleep schedule and get some form of physical activity every day. If you find that your appetite and sleep patterns are adversely affected, or your symptoms interfere with your daily responsibilities, reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional. There are treatments available that can help make the seasonal shift much more manageable. 

How to Support Your Immune System

Despite your best intentions, your health goals can become sidelined by the season’s viral villains: the common cold and flu. Neither is curable, so a solid prevention strategy is your best bet for staying well. Getting your annual flu shot and following COVID-19 precautions such as wearing a mask and social distancing will undoubtedly help, but your last line of defense is your immune system. 

Experts at the Cleveland Clinic recommend incorporating immune-boosting foods into your winter menu to help your body dispatch any seasonal invaders. Fill your grocery cart with a wide range of colorful fruits and vegetables to ensure you consume a full arsenal of antioxidants. Be sure to stock up on raw garlic, which contains antiviral compounds, along with vitamin-C-rich foods like citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, and kiwis.

According to the Mayo Clinic, people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to succumb to sickness after being exposed to a virus. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night to support healthy infection-fighting antibodies and cells. We’ve compiled these tips for getting the nightly rest you need when sleep is elusive.

How to Feel Better When You’re Sick

Unfortunately, no matter how many antioxidant-rich foods you eat, it’s not always possible to avoid coming down with a cold or flu. If you can’t stomach one more raw garlic clove and you’re simply feeling miserable, over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help ease your symptoms and reduce the amount of time you feel knocked off your feet. 

Here are the medications our pharmacists recommend to help you feel better fast.

Not sure why you’re feeling so sick? Read “Cold, Flu, or COVID-19? Your Seasonal Symptom Guide” for clues. If you think you may have symptoms of COVID-19, it’s important to avoid contact with others and call your medical provider right away. 

For a stuffy or runny nose

When you’re sick, your nose can alternately feel like a leaky faucet and a blocked pipe. If you have nasal or sinus congestion, a decongestant, such as pseudoephedrine, can help. For a runny nose or postnasal drip, an antihistamine may do the trick. 

Just keep in mind that antihistamines may make you drowsy, while decongestants may keep you awake. Decongestants come in both oral and spray or drop form. If you’re considering a nasal spray or drops, don’t use them for more than three days in a row, or you may end up even stuffier than you were before (due to a condition called rebound congestion). 

If you’re taking other medications, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before starting a decongestant or antihistamine. Adverse interactions are possible with some medications, such as those that treat heart disease. If you’re an Alto customer, simply reach out by phone, text, or in-app chat, and one of our pharmacists can help determine which medicine may be right for you.

For a sore throat

A raw, scratchy throat is often the first painful signal that a cold or flu is coming on. However, it could also be a sign of something more serious, such as a streptococcus bacterial infection (strep throat). Talk with your doctor if the pain in your throat is persistent, severe, or if you have trouble swallowing. For milder soreness, over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help.

Medicated lozenges and gargles that contain oral anesthetics/analgesics such as phenol and benzocaine are also available. These products can provide temporary pain relief for your throat. Just don’t use them for more than a few days in a row. You want to remain aware of whether the pain is progressing and may need a doctor’s attention.  

For a cough

Coughing from time to time is your body’s way of clearing out your lungs. But constant coughing can be a nuisance at best and pretty painful at worst. 

If your cough is wet, you’ll need an expectorant, which will help to loosen mucus in your chest and throat. Guaifenesin is the active ingredient in OTC cough syrups designed to clear congestion from your airways. 

For a dry cough that just won’t quit, look for a cough suppressant, also known as an antitussive. Cough suppressants help to relieve your cough by blocking the cough reflex. A common antitussive ingredient you’ll see on the shelf is dextromethorphan. 

For fever or aches

Though fevers aren’t fun, they’re actually an encouraging sign that your immune system is mobilizing to fight off an infection. According to the Mayo Clinic, except for very young or old individuals, generally healthy people don’t need to take medication to lower their temperature if it’s under 102 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if you’re feeling uncomfortable, a pain-and-fever reducer like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with your fever and also soothe muscle aches. 

For When It All Hits You Like a Ton of Bricks

Of course, coming down with a cold or flu is often so unbearable because it brings on a slew of uncomfortable symptoms all at once. Rather than keeping a pile of medications on hand, you can seek out one of the many multi-ingredient “cold and flu” medicines.  

These all-in-one options seem to have endless variations. In reality, they all contain different combinations of the four ingredients we’ve covered: decongestants, pain and fever reducers, cough suppressants, and expectorants. Once you know which basic components to look for, you will notice that there is really no difference between brand name and generic versions of these medicines—except that the generic version is often much cheaper

Just keep in mind that combination cold and flu medications often have more ingredients than you need to treat your symptoms, putting you at greater risk of side effects and overdosing. Make a note of the active ingredients in every OTC medication you take and never double up on medications containing the same ones. If only one symptom is truly bothering you, it’s best to stick to medicine that only relieves that specific discomfort. 

Take Care This Season

When in doubt, talk to your pharmacist. The team at Alto is on call to discuss which medications will be most effective and safe. We’re available from 9 am - 9 pm PT Monday - Friday, and 10 am - 6 pm PT on weekends; download the mobile app for secure messaging, or call or text 1-800-874-5881.

Remember—keep wearing your mask and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It will also help keep you safe from catching a cold and flu. Get plenty of sunshine, prioritize sleep, and spice up your meals with immune-boosting foods. With these precautions in place, we hope you’ll be enjoying a healthy winter season ahead. 

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.