The flu season is here again and, as every year, we are told to get the flu shot. But there are multiple things to do to prevent the flu — and to do if you get the flu — that the general public is not educated about. First and foremost, sleep.

Sleep is the most important deterrent to illness. It helps strengthen the immune system and diminishes inflammation in the body, which can lead to heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. A lot of people do not get enough sleep on average any time of year, so there needs to be more discipline in this area of our lives.

Second, make sure to hydrate. Drinking fluids is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer.

Third, try to limit or stay away from processed foods. In the winter, we tend to want to load on carbohydrates, such as bread and pastas, which are mostly processed. But the carbs we should be eating are found naturally in vegetables. Fruits and vegetables should be eaten more, because they naturally have immune-system strengtheners.

It can be harder to find a wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables during Maine winters, so frozen can also be an option. Just make sure when you are buying frozen, you are buying only the product itself, not with added sugar and other preservatives. Try to stay away from canned vegetables, as they are loaded with salt and also can contain bisphenol A, which has been found in the liners of cans.

Fourth, get outside and move. Cardiovascular exercise is a must, and being outside in the sun is also important because we tend to be deficient in Vitamin D in the winter. Walk or jog a good half-hour at the least, an hour preferably, once a day if you can. This gets more oxygen into the bloodstream, helps clear out your system of toxins and again strengthens the immune system.

Fifth, stay away from public places at peak times. Try to go shopping or do errands at other times. The fewer the people, the better your chances of not being exposed to a virus. Even though I have stressed a stronger immune system, it is not because the immune system is weaker in the winter due to the cold that makes the flu more prevalent. It’s because the flu virus is stronger and spreads faster in cold, dry air.

The bottom line is that the best way to fight the flu, or any illness, is to live a healthy lifestyle year round. Now, if you do get the flu, stay home, hydrate and rest. If you have a fever, acetaminophen (Tylenol ) or Ibuprofen (if you are not allergic to these medications) is preferable for a fever reducer and comfort from aches and pains. Make sure to follow directions on the label. But remember, acetaminophen is also found in other over-the-counter and prescription medications, so check how much acetaminophen you are taking with all medications combined. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the maximum daily limit is 4,000 milligrams per day because of potential liver damage caused by too much acetaminophen exposure. If you have any kind of medical issues concerning your liver, you should not take acetaminophen at all.

It is very important to hydrate. Fever and vomiting is a combination that dehydrates the body. Sipping on Gatorade can help rehydrate with all the essential elements that are lost from dehydration. But, if you cannot hydrate because of active vomiting or exhaustion, then call your doctor, as you may have to go to the hospital for rehydration.

These tips I have given here are for the general healthy public. If you have an autoimmune disease, are elderly or have an infant, it is recommended to contact your doctor if you have severe symptoms from the flu. With a little education and knowledge, the flu season every year can be a lot easier on everybody.

Katherine Meryweather Cavness, of Hampden, has been a nurse for almost 20 years, a strong advocate for preventative medicine, a writer, and an avid researcher of the latest advances of insights, behaviors and breakthroughs in the scientific and medical world. She is the principal owner of Frontline Medical Innovators LLC, a health education organization. She may be reached at