The common cold isn’t life-threatening, but it can definitely ruin plans or make you miss work due to sick days.
And upper respiratory infections don’t discriminate, so it’s your responsibility to prevent colds.
Fortunately, a blend of cutting-edge science and common sense reminders will do the trick. Follow these 13 tips and you won’t need to rely on luck to stay illness-free this cold and flu season.
13 Ways to Prevent a Cold
#1: Wash Your Hands
Washing your hands is easy, so hopefully you’re already doing it. But how often do you really need to lather, rinse, and dry?
Surprisingly, evidence suggests that 2-4 times per day is enough for the general public. One study compared different frequencies and found that washing your hand up to 20 times daily offered no additional protection against infections in comparison[*]!
On the other hand, physicians ought to be washing up between every patient.
If you’re visiting the doctor (and brave enough), insisting they wash their hands is a good idea: one hospital study found that up to 85% of doctors didn’t wash their hands frequently enough (yuck!)[*].
Also, if you want to be extra-safe or don’t have access to soap and water, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can’t hurt. Sanitizers with ethanol, isopropanol, or n-propanol as ingredients are the most effective for killing cold viruses[*].
Finally, stay away from the gimmick known as antibacterial soap. It’s no more effective than regular soap at reducing bacteria or preventing illness, plus it pollutes the environment and helps create resistant germs[*].
#2: Don’t Touch Your Face
Time to be honest, when was the last time you touched your face? Are you touching it now?
Along with hand-washing, avoiding face-touching is the key to not getting sick. In fact, it may be more important.
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Transferring germs from surfaces to your face, eyes, nose, and mouth is an easy way to contract a cold. One study found that people touched “common surfaces” over 3 times each hour, and also touched their faces over 3 times per hour[*].
If you must put your hands and fingers on your face, do it mindfully–after washing your hands, not after touching stair rails or door knobs.
As an added bonus, touching your face less often may also improve your skin appearance and help prevent acne by reducing skin inflammation[*].
#3: Sanitize Wisely
At home and at work, sanitizing objects like doorknobs and tables can cut down on the spread of infection.
And you don’t need to buy brand-name cleaners, either. Make a batch of this powerful, inexpensive homemade disinfectant for maximum germ-killing power:
- 1/2 cup (4 oz.) water
- 1/8 cup (1 oz.) rubbing alcohol
- 1/8 cup (1 oz.) vinegar
- 20 drops of essential oil of your choice (try a combination of peppermint and lemon, lavender and lemon, or other antibacterial favorites like eucalyptus or tea tree)
Mix and store it in a plastic or glass spray bottle, then spray and wipe surfaces as needed.
#4: Eat a Whole Foods Diet
Your immune system requires micronutrients to function properly.
A deficiency in vitamin A, C, D, E, B2, B6, B12, folic acid, iron, selenium, or zinc makes you more prone to infection[*].
But before you sprint to the supplement shelf, keep in mind that whole foods are the best way to get plenty of micronutrients.
In other words, plenty of veggies, fruits, healthy fats, and even high-quality (grass-fed, pastured, or wild-caught) animal products are the key if you want to avoid a cold.
Also, omega-3 fatty acids are literally essential and affect every type of immune cell in your body[*].
Pro-tip: going keto is a sure-fire way to get plenty of healthy whole foods in your diet and feel great.
#5: Use Probiotic Foods and Supplements
The old-school, conventional wisdom perspective says supplements can’t prevent a cold or other illnesses.
But new evidence suggests that some supplements can do just that, and probiotics are one such supplement.
For example, a 2017 review concluded that taking probiotics can help reduce the number of upper respiratory tract infections people experience, as well as the amount of antibiotic usage[*].
A separate study found that in kids, daily probiotics for 6 months reduced the occurrence and duration of multiple cold and flu symptoms like coughing, fever, and runny nose[*].
The takeaway: eat more fermented foods or take probiotic supplements to help make colds a thing of the past.
#6: Get Sunlight and Vitamin D
Cold and flu season happen in the cold, dark months of the year. Along with everyone being crowded inside together, there’s less sunlight outside.
And getting less sunlight means lower vitamin D levels, which can increase your risk of infections[*].
Taking D3 supplements may help boost your immunity if you’re deficient in vitamin D, which could reduce your susceptibility to colds.
However, some evidence suggests that sunlight boosts immune response in other ways, too[*]. To cover all your bases, try to get outside more, even in winter–whether or not you take vitamin D supplements.
#7: Reduce Your Stress Levels and Stay Positive
For nearly 30 years, researchers have known that psychological stress plays a role in catching a cold[*].
And more recently, scientists have discovered that high levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol can raise your risk of a cold, plus keep you sick longer[*].
Additionally, whether or not you’re stressed, your overall outlook may also affect your risk of getting a cold. One study found that people with a positive emotional style had a lower likelihood of having colds[*].
If your life is stressful or you feel a lot of negative emotions, you can try simple techniques like slow breathing, mindfulness, yoga, and self-awareness to feel better and keep from getting sick.
#8: Obtain Plenty of Sleep
Sleeping poorly or not enough reduces your immune function, raising your risk of the common cold as well as other, more serious infections[*][*].
That’s probably the billionth reason you’ve heard to get enough sleep, so make it happen already.
Also, if you do get sick, make sure to sleep even more. Sleeping extra can enhance recovery from the common cold[*].
#9: Take Zinc
Evidence shows that for kids, taking zinc during cold season can cut the number of colds by half[*].
The above finding may apply to adults, too, but there’s not a study to say for sure.
However, it is proven that taking 75 mg of zinc per day orally as soon as you feel cold symptoms coming on can shorten the time you spend being sick[*].
Whether you prefer to take zinc throughout cold season or keep it on hand to ward off a cold, don’t overlook the effectiveness of this inexpensive remedy.
#10: Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise is a great idea if you prefer not to get sick.
Physical activity can promote circulation of white blood cells, which may help your body fight off colds[*].
There’s just one caveat, though, when it comes to exercise.
Overtraining can reduce your immune activity and make you more prone to infection, so don’t work out with ultra-high intensity all the time[*].
#11: Follow Kitchen Safety Rules
Safety during cooking and meal prep is mandatory to stay well.
In addition to preventing food poisoning, following a few simple rules in the kitchen can cut down on spreading colds and other infections from sick people.
Here’s what to remember:
- Keep hands and surfaces clean by washing or sanitizing frequently.
- Separate uncooked foods from cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook food to the proper temperature.
- Don’t leave food unrefrigerated.
It’s also smart to steer clear of restaurants if you suspect the employees are sick, or if they have a low grade from the local health department.
#12: Maintain Strong Social Ties
Hard evidence shows that having a strong, diverse social network can decrease your likelihood of catching a cold[*].
Researchers looked at the effects of 12 types of social ties like spouses, parents, friends, coworkers, and members of social groups.
They found that the more different types of social ties people had, the lower the chance of having a cold became. People who were well-connected socially were also less contagious and had less-severe symptoms.
Also, if you do get sick, it’s nice to have plenty of people willing to bring you soothing keto chicken soup.
#13: Know When to See the Doctor
If you have a cold right now or get one in the future, here’s something essential to remember. Colds often share symptoms with other, more serious infections.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, stop toughing it out and schedule an appointment with a physician right away:
- A fever of 103 degrees Fahrenheit or more
- Trouble breathing
- Severe pain when swallowing (more than a typical sore throat)
- Inability to eat
- Chest pain
- Temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit that lasts more than six days
- Cough or congestion lasting more than two weeks
Also, listen to your doctor’s advice.
Don’t request unnecessary medications–if the doctor says you have a virus, antibiotics won’t help. They’ll only compromise your microbiome, which impairs your immune function in the long run[*].
If you want to stay cold- and flu-free, your only option is to be proactive.
Luckily, you can dramatically cut your odds of getting a cold by following the simple recommendations you just learned.
Or even if you aren’t concerned about being sick for a few days or a week with a cold, each tip can prevent more serious illnesses and boost your health in other ways.