Now that winter’s in the air, your chances of catching a cold or coming down with the flu rise dramatically. But little known fact: It’s not the cold weather itself that brings on the sniffles, but how you react to it. With a few smart maneuvers, there will be no flu for you this year. Here’s your seven-step immunity-boosting plan.
1. Find Moist Air
We tend to stay indoors when the weather gets cold, but being in close contact with our loved ones makes people-hopping easy for germs.
In addition, indoor air tends to be lower in humidity. Researchers at Columbia University showed that in dry air, particles emitted from sneezing and spluttering break into smaller pieces and are better able to stay aloft and inhaled by others. In the damp outdoors, however, particles are more likely to stay intact, dropping heavily to the ground and out of harm’s way.
A room or whole-house humidifier won’t just keep your lips moist—it can help you stay healthier all winter long.
2. Train Five Days a Week (or at Least Think About It)
Numerous studies have demonstrated that exercising regularly cuts cold and flu infections. In one 12-week study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that exercising five days a week reduced upper-respiratory tract infections by almost 50 percent.
Interestingly, researchers found a similar reduction in infection risk among people who think they’re highly fit, whether they were exercising regularly or not.
Here’s a great bodyweight workout you can do—or think about doing—anywhere.
3. Get a Daily Dose of D
Sunlight is in short supply during the winter, but as the primary provider of vitamin D, it’s essential that you get some sun exposure during the darker months. According to a three-year study published in Epidemiology and Infection, people who took 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily had 70 percent fewer colds and flu than those taking a placebo.
Check out when ultraviolet B rays are at their strongest in your part of the world and make a date to catch some rays. Otherwise, supplement with vitamin D–fortified food.
4. Stay Two Arms’ Lengths Away
If there’s an outbreak of flu in your immediate environment, keep your distance. A study from Wake Forest School of Medicine revealed that infectious flu-containing particles exhaled by a sick person travel about 6 feet.
5. Clean Up After Yourself
In The Secret Life of Germs, author Philip Tierno, Ph.D., suggests sanitizing all shared items in your home and office: door handles, remote controls, computer keyboards, oven buttons, and so on.
“Rhinoviruses [the predominant cause of the common cold] can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours,” he writes. So give tables and taps a good rub down with disinfectant at least once a week—more if you have a sniffler in your midst.
6. Double Down on Vitamin Z
David Katz, founder of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and author of Disease-Proof, writes that a good night’s sleep will do more to make you fighting fit than most anything else. And when it comes to sidestepping the common cold, he’s not wrong.
In a survey carried out by the University of California, participants who said they slept for 5 hours or less on an average weeknight were 28 percent more likely to catch a cold—and 82 percent more likely to contract the flu—compared with those who slept for 7 to 8 hours on weeknights.
7. Eat More Protein
And finally, a study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases shows that diets low in protein can weaken the immune system. So add protein-rich foods such as milk, Greek yogurt, eggs, and fish to your daily menus and eat your way into good health this winter.