Must-Haves in Your Home Workspace

Brisk weather, cold noses, crowded buses and sick co-workers – it's sniffle season! Sharing an office space significantly increases your risk of catching the common cold or flu[1], and we’ve got five must-haves for your desk at work to help support you through defending your immune system this winter:

1. Hand sanitisers & disinfectant wipes to keep your desk germ-free

The airborne viruses that cause the cold and flu  survive anywhere from hours to days on surfaces like phones, desks, keyboards, and doorknobs. These nasties are picked up and easily introduced into your body when you rub your eyes or touch your nose – without even noticing, most people do this every four minutes, or up to 125 each day! [2]

A 2015 study found that using antibacterial hand sanitisers and wipes reduced the risk of catching a rhinovirus by up to 85% [3]. Don’t forget to grab the antibacterial kind, though  – antimicrobial wipes are far more effective at killing the influenza virus than low-tech alternatives like damp cloths or tissues [4].

Cleaning your hands regularly can stop the spread of infection. A 2006 study found that people who washed their hands multiple times a day had a 16% lower chance of catching a cold or flu [5].

Herbal support to boost your immune system

Taking herbal medicine before you get sick might be even better than taking it after you develop symptoms. Echinacea may help to support the body's immune system, and a 2012 study found that people who took it for four months over winter experienced fewer colds and flus [6]. Other herbs like Andrographis have been shown to reduce the risk of catching a cold, and to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms if you do end up getting sick [7].

Vitamin C to get you back on your feet faster

Vitamin C may or may not prevent the common cold – the research is divided. But what researchers consistently find it that taking vitamin C before you get a cold or flu can reduce the duration and severity of your symptoms when you do get sick [8]. Worth the effort? We think so. Make it easier on yourself by opting for chewable tablets and munch on them throughout the day.

Herbal tea and water to keep your immune cells moving

Immune cells travel through your body via fluids – even slight dehydration slow them down, making it harder for them to fight incoming viruses. Drinking a cup of water every hour, and avoid alcohol and caffeine that can dehydrate you further – opt for herbal teas instead. In a 2000 study, echinacea tea was shown to relieve the symptoms of colds and flus faster than a placebo [9].

The only exception to the caffeine rule is green tea – research has found that antioxidant catechins found in green tea could prevent infection by influenza or the rhinovirus [10]. A study from 2011 found that drinking 1 – 3 cups of green tea per day prevented students from catching the flu or the common cold [11].

Vaporiser and essential oils to protect your desk

Wouldn't it be nice to stop those airborne pathogens in their tracks before they reach your workspace? Running a vaporiser loaded with essential oils could create a protective cloud around your desk – it'll also increase the air humidity which the influenza virus hates. No way to run a vaporiser where you are? Go analogue and use an essential oil spray every few hours.

It's no secret that eucalyptus and tea tree oils are potent antimicrobials[12], but for something a little more perfumed, go for lemon balm or patchouli – all of these essential oils have been shown to inhibit airborne influenza viruses [13].

Quick tips:

  • Get moving! Regular moderate exercise has been shown to boost the immune system and reduce the risk and severity of the cold and flu [14].
  • A study in 2015 found that people who gargled with water three times a day were less likely to develop a cold [15]. Weird, but it might be worth a shot!
  • Getting enough good quality sleep can strengthen your immune system in colder weather. A 2009 study found that sleeping just 10-30 minutes less than an optimal eight hours can significant increase the risk of getting a cold or flu[16]. Read more about how good sleep can keep a cold away.