This time of year, carols of coughing and sneezing get more airplay than "White Christmas" and that one little song by Mariah Carey. Beautifully harmonized, may we add, by that soul-sucking sound of mucus-drenched sniffles and hacked-up phlegm. (Did we just make you lose your appetite for sugar cookies? Our sincerest apologies.) The point: While wintertime invites a deluge of merriment accented by all things cozy and comforting, it also brings tidings of sickness and all-around cruddiness—an annoying and ill-timed combination to say the least. (I'll never forget the one year I was so sick over Thanksgiving I couldn't eat anything. I still feel cheated.)
But what exactly is it that makes wintertime the prime time for catching whatever it is circling your (or your loved ones') office? Many just as soon correlate the bone-dry, chilly temperatures with the cold-and-flu season, but as it turns out, colder temperatures, independently speaking, have absolutely nothing to do with the tickle in your throat. Thrown? We were too until we asked Mia Finkelston, a board-certified family physician who treats patients via LiveHealth Online, to decode the prevalence of wintertime sickness. Does cold weather actually make you sick? We investigate what you need to know below. Keep scrolling.
So Why Is Everyone Sick Right Now?
As we said, cold temperatures alone don't precipitate sickness, but what we collectively do as a human race in reaction to shiver-inducing temperatures does. For instance, while we're all for winter sporting, we tend to huddle indoors and share close quarters far more often this time of year than we do in the summertime. Thus, we're far more likely to be exposed to other people's germs. (Because yes, germs are what make you sick, folks.)
"If you are sick, stay home from work and away from public places," Finkelston advises. "Also, if you are well, avoid sick people! You're not being rude; you're being cautious. You may also be using more public transportation this time of year to travel for the holidays, and airplanes, buses, and trains are often covered with other peoples' germs."
That said, unlike us, certain viruses love the cold and actually thrive in cooler temperatures. Therefore, we quickly become more susceptible to strains of sickness we wouldn't be exposed to sans frigid environment.
"It is important to remember that germs are what cause sickness, not cold weather. However,
rhinoviruses, which cause common colds and influenza viruses (which cause the flu), tend to thrive in colder temperatures," explains Finkelston. For this reason, we might be more likely to get sick in the wintertime, and there is some additional evidence, she tells us, correlating colder temperatures with weakened immune systems, which, you guessed it, increases our chances of catching germs.
Tips to Beat Wintertime Sickness
Sometimes getting sick is inevitable and even being on your best, most vigilant behavior results in a solid three-day quarantine of bed, hot tea, pho, and Friends. But according to Finkelston (and as your mom probably extolled over and over again when you were younger), certain habits will bolster your immune system and lessen that aforementioned likelihood of a tea-cushioned Friends binge (not that that necessarily sounds bad though).
"As is the case in preventing most diseases, focus on your core health habits to make winter a 'well' season," Finkelston says. Keep scrolling for the doc-approved tips and practices she suggests for keeping wintertime sickness at bay this season.
Less sleep equals less vigor when it comes to your immune system. To keep your health in tip-top shape this winter (cold weather be damned!), Finkelston recommends getting adequate rest and sleep each day. Seven to eight hours, she says, is optimal.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but since this time of year we're more likely to reach for a second slice of pie and not our tennis shoes, Finkelston reminds us that a daily dose of movement is important for staying healthy and happy. Need some inspiration? These will be the top three fitness trends of 2019.
"Aim to eat a healthy diet, low in processed foods and high in fresh vegetables and proteins," Finkelston advises. If you need some help getting started, or yearn for healthy food with optimum convenience, try a week of healthy food delivery from a brand like Sakara Life which puts your health front and center. (Psst: See my personal review here!)
"If the three above solutions are already commonplace for you, then consider trying a few others that have scientific merit," suggests Finkelston. She recommends gargling with salt water at least three times a day in the winter months to decrease germs and in turn your chances of coming down with the common cold. Do it preemptively, before you start feeling the onset of cold symptoms.
"Loading up with antioxidants daily, whether from foods (preferred) or supplements from a reputable
company, is another good suggestion," Finkelston adds. We like this blend from Gaia Herbs featuring a strategic blend of elderberry, echinacea, and giner—a true triple threat.
"Vitamin D3 may help boost your immune system, too, especially if you live in states farther north where there are fewer hours of daylight in the winter," explains Finkelston. "This is because as you're likely inside for most of daylight hours, there are naturally fewer opportunities to activate vitamin D synthesis in your skin."