Want to Be Healthier? Do This for 20 Seconds

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There is one thing you can do that all doctors agree will help protect you against the cold, flu and other respiratory infections - wash your hands.

handwashingAccording to the CDC:

  • If everyone regularly washed their hands, one million deaths per year could be avoided, according to researchers in London.
  • Contaminated hands are the cause of a large percentage of foodborne disease outbreaks.
  • Handwashing reduces the risk of respiratory infections by 16%.
  • Washing your hands with soap and water could reduce diarrheal disease-associated deaths up to 50%.

“Consistent handwashing and hand sanitizing prevents so many illnesses, especially the flu and respiratory illnesses we experience this time of year," says Dr. Gio Baracco, an internist the University of Miami Health System. "We have hand sanitizer stations throughout our hospitals and medical facilities to remind people of the importance of good hygiene.”

What is the right way to wash your hands?

To correctly wash your hands, the CDC recommends the following steps:

  • Get your hands wet with warm or cold clean, running water.
  • Turn off the water, then lather your hands with soap. Don’t skip the back of your hands, between your fingers, under your fingernails or your thumbs.
  • Rinse your hands thoroughly under running water.
  • Dry your hands with a clean cloth or paper towel or air dry them.

You may have heard that the correct length of time to scrub your hands is the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. That takes about 20 seconds. You need to spend that much time washing your hands to fully get rid of germs, experts say. Try that a couple of times until you get a sense for how long 20 seconds really is.

Rinse and repeat - a lot

When it comes to handwashing, frequency is key.
Wash your hands before:

  • Eating or making a meal
  • Handling contact lenses – whether inserting or removing
  • Taking care of or providing medicine to someone who is ill or injured

Wash your hands after you:

  • Go to the bathroom or change a baby's diapers
  • Cough or sneeze into your hands or blow your nose
  • Touch a pet, a leash, pet waste or toys
  • Prepare a meal, especially when handling raw meat
  • Care for an ill or injured person
  • Handle trash, chemicals, cleaning rags or shoes
  • Shake hands with someone
Stay clean when you are on the go

If soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer is a suitable substitute. Like handwashing, it must be done the right way. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. While sanitizers remove bacteria quickly, they don’t remove all germs. And they don’t work well when your hands are visibly soiled or greasy. Also, hand sanitizers might not remove harmful chemicals like pesticides or heavy metals.

If you use hand sanitizer, do it correctly:
  1. Apply the gel to the palm of one hand (read the label for the correct amount).
  2. Rub your hands together.
  3. Rub the gel over all surfaces of your hands, fingers (and thumbs) until your hands are dry.

Written by a staff writer at UMiami Health News.