The Center for Disease Control says most people get only two to three colds a year, but that seems like a low estimate during the winter—particularly if you have kids in school or daycare (both also known as Germ Central). So how, exactly, can you slash your risk? Obviously, wash your hands often and get your flu shot. Then, take note of these more advanced germ-fighting tips from local experts.
- Practice Mindfulness Meditation
A study in Annals of Family Medicine showed mindfulness training reduced the incidence of acute respiratory infections by 40 to 50 percent in people older than 50. Researchers think meditation lowers stress, which has been linked to compromising the body’s immune response.
2. Get Serious About Sleep
A recent study in the journal Sleep found that adults who averaged five or six hours of sleep per night were four times more likely to get sick than those who slept seven hours or more. So maybe think twice about binge-watching your favorite new show into the wee hours. “If you’ve already come down with a cold,” says Jenifer Johnson, MD, family physician at Westmed Medical Group in Rye, NY, “aim for eight to 10 hours of sleep for a few days to help your immune system bounce back.”
3. Sterilize Your Cell Phone
Imagine this scenario: You unknowingly touch an infected door handle, then you grab your smartphone to make a quick call. Virus, meet face. Another potential danger: Loaning your cell to your sniffly toddler. To keep your device clean, try noncorrosive sterilizing wipes or a UV cell phone sanitizer, such as PhoneSoap.
4. Amp Up the Humidity
Protect yourself by investing in a humidifier or vaporizer. “When the linings of your nasal mucosa are moist, they act as a physical barrier of defense for your immune system,” Johnson says. “You’re more likely to have an infection if you have dry nasal passages, because they become an easy entryway for germs.” (Be sure to clean your humidifier and change filters often to avoid mold growth.) For those who get frequent sinus infections, Rebecca Warkol, MD, an internist at Old Greenwich Medical Group in Old Greenwich, CT, recommends Flonase. “It helps open nasal passages and drain everything,” she says.
5. Ask Your Doctor About a Natural Supplement
Elderberry, a bluish-black berry that comes from a flowering shrub, was recently shown to provide protection against cold and flu-like symptoms after long flights when taken in supplement form. Another herb, umckaloabo, may help reduce the strength and duration of symptoms when the liquid is taken in the first 48 hours of illness, says Johnson. (Both are available at pharmacies or health food stores.)
6. Swap Vitamin C For D
There’s lots of conflicting evidence out there on the effectiveness of vitamin C for preventing and treating colds. However, a study in Archives of Internal Medicine showed that people low in vitamin D are more susceptible to the common cold. Check with your doctor to see if a vitamin D supplement may be appropriate for you.
7. Have Sex on a Regular Basis
“Intimacy with your partner is really important for your overall health,” says Warkol. Studies have shown that intercourse boosts immune function. And one in particular showed that those who have sex one or two times a week have increased levels of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that fends off colds.
8. Pop a Probiotic
One study found that those who took a probiotic supplement recovered from colds earlier and had less-severe symptoms. “There’s limited downside to trying a probiotic,” Johnson says. “And the benefit is that it can probably help in other ways, such as with gastrointestinal health.”
9. Drink Water—And Skip the Booze
“Drinking water provides a variety of benefits,” says Warkol. “When you’re hydrated, you’re flushing your kidneys and your colon is functioning better.” In addition, drinking fluids helps loosen mucus. However, Warkol warns that alcohol is the enemy during cold-and-flu season. “Any time you can, skip it completely,” she says, “because when you drink, you don’t get into the proper sleep cycle.”