There’s a chill in the air, the holidays are right around the corner and — of course — cold and flu season is knocking on the door.
It’s a great time of year to be thinking of all the ways we can keep ourselves, and our kids, as healthy as possible.
But between thoughts of drinking more water, eating more whole foods and trying to stay active, there might be something seemingly insignificant escaping notice.
Something that not only provides a critical defense against the onslaught of germs that’s bound to come but helps stave off an array of other illnesses throughout the year.
Something that, apparently, very few of us have mastered. Handwashing.
Just how critical is handwashing in the effort to prevent getting sick? Very, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
In fact, the CDC cites handwashing as the single most important measure you can take to prevent being exposed to, and spreading, infection.
Studies have shown that frequent hand washing, an average of four times a day to be exact, can reduce your chances of getting the common cold by 24% and stomach upsets by 51%.
The CDC says the most important times to wash hands are after using the restroom, coughing/sneezing and arriving at home or work, as well as before eating, taking medications or any activity that involves touching your face.
Alright, so we know why and when we need to wash our hands but how many of us really know how?
In a study, conducted by Michigan State University, researchers came to this surprising conclusion: only 5% of people are washing their hands thoroughly enough actually to remove germs.
The study found that the average wash time was only about 6 seconds, with one third of those studied not even using soap.
Simply put, the majority of us are failing miserably at this — the most basic of life skills.
Thankfully, the experts have these suggestions for those of us — kids and grown-ups alike — who are hoping to improve our hand washing skills:
- There are three main components to a thorough hand washing: soap, running water and friction.
- Using these three components, wash all surfaces of the hands, including wrists, under fingernails and between fingers, for a minimum of 20 seconds — but the longer the better!
- Singing a little song twice, like the ABC’s, can be a simple way gauge the time it takes to get the job done right. This is not only a great tip for kids who are just learning but also for adults who are relearning.
Want to take it a step further? Try this method, developed by the World Health Organization, which is supposed to be the most effective (if rather involved) way to get your hands germ-free.
With the average person’s hands coming in contact with up to 300 different surfaces every 30 minutes, the result is exposure to nearly 800,000 germs every half hour or so. While many of these germs are harmless, and some are even good for our body systems, plenty are capable of making us — or those around us — sick.