While it’s possible to get sick at any time of year, the risk of disease typically spikes during winter. You probably notice more people around you (including yourself) coming down with something as the temperatures drop. This can make it hard to enjoy the festivities this time of year, but thankfully, there are some actions you can take to reduce your risk. Below, we’ll go over some things that can help prevent getting sick in the winter.
Why Do People Get Sick in the Winter?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the peak flu season months fall between the winter months of December and February. There are several main reasons for this:
- Lower temperatures allow viruses to survive and linger on surfaces people touch every day.
- Cold, less humid air makes it easier for flu viruses to jump between people.
- The cold weather and holiday get-togethers this time of year bring people into close quarters, causing them to breathe the same circulated air and increase the chance of virus spreading.
- Our mucous membranes and respiratory systems are more vulnerable to germs in response to dry and cold air.
- Sunlight can kill germs on surfaces and inside buildings. With shorter, darker days, germs may be allowed to survive for a longer amount of time.
How to Prevent Getting Sick in the Winter
Although you can’t guarantee you won’t be ill this winter, here are some ways you can prevent it as much as possible. In some cases, you may be able to reduce the amount of time or severity of your sickness.
1. Wash Your Hands Well
Proper handwashing is always important, but it’s especially vital during the cold winter months. Washing your hands helps prevent the transmission of germs between other people. It also ensures our hands are clean when we touch any surface that others have also touched.
2. Disinfect Your Work and Living Spaces
Viruses that cause the common cold (known as rhinoviruses) can survive on many different types of surfaces for up to 48 hours. So, it’s a good idea to sanitize places in your house and office that people share. Cleaning products with bleach or alcohol help to disinfect these areas.
That includes doorknobs, desks, remote controls, computer keyboards and mouses, couches, and more. Think of glass, metal, plastic, paper, and fabric surfaces that you and others come into contact with regularly.
3. Live a Healthy Lifestyle
A “healthy lifestyle” encompasses a lot, but here we’re mostly talking about eating well and exercising regularly. As we get older, our immune system’s response decreases. This can lead to more infections, so it’s very important to take care of ourselves—during the winter and throughout the year.
Focus on plenty of fruits and vegetables during these winter months. Make meals that have a good balance of healthy whole carbohydrates, fats, and proteins so you stay satisfied and enjoy your food.
Also, work to get at least some exercise every day. Find types of movement that you enjoy and do it regularly. Treat your body well so it has the best chance at fighting off germs circulating around this time of year.
4. Use a Humidifier
Indoor air tends to be drier, which can increase the chance of germs transferring between people and surfaces. A humidifier can help keep your environment moister and safer.
5. Stay at Home More
After someone with the flu coughs or sneezes, the viruses can travel over 12 feet! That puts everyone in their vicinity at risk. If many people around you are getting sick or you feel like you might be coming down with something, try to stay at home as much as possible.
6. Take Immune-Supportive Vitamins
Nutrients and other substances that are crucial for the immune system include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Pantothenic acid
7. Get Enough Rest
Not getting enough sleep can really mess with your immune system, which makes it hard for your body to fight off potential illnesses. According to a survey conducted by the University of California, those who got five or fewer hours of sleep on average (compared with participants who slept seven to eight hours on average) were 82 percent more likely to get the flu and 28 percent more likely to come down with a cold.
You might be tempted to burn the candle at both ends this season—preparing for the holidays and end of the year—but sleep is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. You can also prevent getting sick in the winter as much as possible by following the tips above and taking care of yourself all year long.