Many families have at-home health remedies they’ve sworn by for generations. In fact, for many people, these beliefs almost feel backed by science, even when they aren’t. (No, you won’t get sick from going outside without a jacket, according to experts.)
These concepts vary from family to family and from culture to culture, but all have the same goal in mind: keeping you healthy. And while many of the adages aren’t accurate ― at least from a research perspective ― some common advice for getting over a cold or preventing other types of illness is legitimate. Your grandparents may have been on to something.
Below, experts share the old-school health advice that’s actually worth following:
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Eating chicken soup when you’re sick.
Experts say that there’s a reason chicken soup or matzo ball soup is a tried-and-true meal when we’re sick.
“Having some warm broth will hydrate you; it’s got salt in it, so it has electrolytes. It will nourish you, especially if your stomach’s queasy … just having something that’s thin and watery that will rehydrate you and replenish your electrolytes,” said Dr. John Schumann, the executive medical director of Oak Street Health, who’s based in Oklahoma.
There have been some studies that say chicken soup may help you get over a cold more quickly, said Dr. Josh Septimus, an internal medicine physician with Houston Methodist Hospital.
It’s not exactly clear why chicken soup might be healing, but it may have to do with the anti-inflammatory properties of its ingredients. And some research says that chicken soup improves mucus flow, Septimus said.
Beyond this research, chicken soup is “packed with fiber-rich veggies that provide nutrients as well,” said Dr. Alexa Malchuk, district medical director at One Medical in North Carolina.
Washing your hands before you eat.
In the age of COVID-19, it should come as no surprise that hand-washing is a good way to stay healthy. So it should also come as no surprise that the advice you’ve heard for years — wash your hands before you sit down for a meal at the table — is totally valid.
According to Malchuk, washing your hands before you eat reduces the risk of fecal-oral contamination and also gets rid of other infectious droplets that could be on your hands.
Airing out your home.
Ventilation is a good way to get virus particles out of your home, which became apparent during the pandemic. “With COVID … ventilation is very important, we learned that the hard way, I think,” Schumann said.
This means your grandparent’s advice to air out your home is perfectly reasonable and can help you stay healthy if any contaminants are lingering in your air.
Additionally, opening windows when you use harsh chemicals or even cook with a gas stove can help reduce the pollutants in your space.
However, there is a potential downside to this, Septimus pointed out. “Yes, it may decrease the amount of virus in the house, but it’s also going to increase quite significantly the number of allergens that are in your house.”
If someone in your household has allergies, you may want to be more careful about opening windows. Additionally, “it’s going to be dependent on your air quality as well,” Septimus said, adding that there could be toxins in your community’s air.
Getting outside every day.
Since the advent of television, cell phones and other technology, we are outside less ― which was not the case in earlier generations.
You’ve likely heard an older family member tell you (or the kids in your family) to get outside and away from the TV or cell phone screen. This piece of advice is valuable, experts say.
According to Septimus, spending time in natural sunlight can reduce stress and depression — and it also gets you moving. A Harvard Health report found a 21-minute walk cuts your risk of heart disease by 30%.
Getting enough sleep.
You’re probably well aware of the benefits of consistent, good-quality sleep. People have been recommending a good night’s sleep as a sickness fighter for generations, and experts say this is another accurate piece of passed-down advice.
“Poor sleep habits are associated with poorer health, including but not limited to obesity, mood disorders and cardiovascular disease,” Malchuk said. So, if you have memories of a grandparent or other older relative telling you it’s important to get a good night’s rest, they certainly weren’t wrong.
It’s best to go to bed at the same time every day and wake up at the same time, too. Beyond the proven health benefits of regular sleep (like a lower risk of cardiovascular disease), this is a good thing holistically as well.
“If you have routines, you’re generally going to be healthier from a physical and mental aspect,” Schumann said.