Getting a cold sucks, but it’s not inevitable. And while 33 million diagnoses each year—according to a CDC report—might suggest otherwise, we found four simple strategies that can help you escape the dreaded cold.
But you have to be diligent. And by diligent, we mean you can’t just read this and sort of follow the advice. You have to stick to it. Because the moment you let up is when colds take hold. (You’ll probably have to get a little lucky, too.)
1. Stop Touching Your Face
This tip may seem obvious, but it’ll be tough to follow through. That’s because people touch their faces an average of 3.6 times every hour, a 2012 study in Clinical Infectious Diseases found.
And that’s a problem, because bringing your hands to your face can spike your cold risk. Workers who report sometimes touching their nose or eyes with their fingers were 41 percent more likely to come down with an upper respiratory infection than those who keep their hands off, according to researchers in Japan.
While you can catch the common cold through germ droplets in the air, the most efficient form of transmission for that particular infection is actually hand contact with secretions that contain the virus, the researchers say. So if your hands touch a surface with the virus on it, and then you touch your face, you can easily introduce the bug into your body.
If you can’t help touching your face, just make sure your digits are clean. That means scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday” in your head), making sure to hit the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under the nails, the CDC says.
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2. Get Plenty of Sleep
Skimping on shuteye can leave you susceptible. People who sleep fewer than six hours a night are four times as likely to catch a cold as those who log seven hours or more, a study published in the journal Sleep found.
This may be because sleep loss messes with certain types of immune cells called B and T cells, which are critical in protecting us from viruses, says study co-author Aric Prather, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at University of California San Francisco.
“Additionally, sleep loss is related to an increase in inflammation, which is believed to play a role in cold symptom severity,” he adds.
3. Hit The Gym
You should keep up your workout routine year-round. The reason: People who exercise five or more days a week take up to 46 percent fewer sick days than those who exercise one day or less a week, according to a study from Appalachian State University.
When you exercise, your blood flow and body temperature increase, and your muscles contract. These factors signal your body to recruit important disease-fighting cells that are stored in your lymphoid tissues.
These cells are then recirculated throughout your system, says lead researcher David Nieman, Dr.P.H. This allows your body to detect—and kill off—potential disease-causing intruders.
To jack up your immune system, Nieman says near-daily cardio of 30 to 60 minutes a session should do the trick. (He notes that resistance training can work, too, but says it should be total-body training, since it appears to be more effective in immune-cell recruitment than routines that target one or two body parts.)
4. Hug It Out
Preventing a cold may truly be in your own hands. Stressed-out people who were more likely to have hugged within the past day are better able to fight off the virus than those who are more hands-off, a study in the journal Psychological Science found.
“Hugging is a physical expression of social support, and when people feel they are supported, they also feel they are better able to handle stress,” says study co-author Denise Janicki-Deverts, Ph.D., a research psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University.
And that’s important, because stress itself has been connected to increased cold risk, possibly because it may spark the release of certain hormones that can wreak havoc on your immunity, says Janicki-Deverts.