You’re more susceptible to colds when you’re, yes, cold. And that’s mostly because cold temperatures make it more difficult for your immune system to function at its best, according to a study by researchers at Yale University.
But the icy temperatures aren’t the only thing that make you more likely to get sick during winter. There are a few other factors at play.
In the winter seasons, our bodies increase the levels of genes linked to inflammation, which trigger swelling and discomfort in our bodies (often the signs of a cold or flu). But, strangely enough, this swelling is actually protecting us, but it exaggerates the symptoms associated with weather-influenced sicknesses.
And, in the winter months, when we’re cold and grumpy, we just want to be inside. But this tendency actually increases our susceptibility to colds even more, because stuffy, unventilated air might make it easier for colds to spread, according to a 2011 study of crowded dorms in China.
Cold weather is also just nicer to viruses. Business Insider cited research from the National Institutes of Health, which found that the outer shell of flu virus particles get tougher and more hardy so that the virus survives longer and then can be more easily spread.
And a recent study of mice found that the rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, can replicate and spread more easily in cooler temperatures than warmer ones. This all sounds pretty maniacal, but you can still protect yourself from cold-weather sickness with a few simple steps.
1. Drink As Much Water As You Can
Drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day is what is recommended by most nutrition and medical websites, but in the winter, since you’re trying to protect your immune system, you should be drinking more.
Not a fan of that much cold water? Try heating up and adding a little fresh squeezed lemon.
2. Try To Minimize Your Stress
Don’t overwork yourself in the winter, because you could stress yourself out, which could negatively affect your immune system and your sleep.
Then, if you catch a cold, then you might have to take time off of work to recover, which will only set you back. Work reasonable hours, and try to spend the time you’re not working with friends and family or doing things that make you happy.
3. Take A Supplement
Supplements give your body a great boost when you might have accidentally slacked on sleep for a few nights. Melissa Wood at Stay Healthy and Well has a few great suggestions here.
4. Wash Your Hands
Your mom was right when she told you that you need to wash your hands after every restroom break and before eating—especially in the winter.
If you can keep germs off your hands, then you can help keep them away from your face and your food, which is often where they are transferred from. Carry hand sanitizer with you if you use public transportation.
5. Try To Avoid Excessive Sugars
Wood said that even the sugar found in certain store-bought juices, yogurts and pastas can compromise your immune system. Instead, stick to a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
6. Time To Quit Smoking
Smoking significantly weakens your immune system, and smokers are much more likely to suffer from multiple cold bouts during any winter, according to Wood.
If you’re struggling with smoking, Wood has nutritional recommendations that can help you quit at Stay Healthy and Well. Or, you can try resources like SmokeFree.gov, which is a free resource that can send you text messages and pair you with a free quit coach to help you stop smoking.