You’ve heard it before: ‘don't go outside in this weather, you'll catch a cold’. But colds are actually caused by viruses, not cold weather. It is true that you are more likely to get a cold during the winter months, but that's because we spend more time in confined, unventilated spaces with larger groups of people – making it easier for the virus to spread from person to person. So what can we do to maximise the chances of staying fighting fit when everyone around us is succumbing to seasonal illness?
First off - balance your life
You will be pleased to hear that, tempting as it might be with all the hype surrounding New Year Resolutions, changing your entire life in January is not necessarily good for you. Shaking up your exercise routine, diet, sleep pattern and balance in life all at once can become overwhelming and actually do more harm than good. Instead, make a plan for small, steady, consistent change that you can implement week by week. Spend some time focusing on what is important to you, what you’d like to change first, and what you can work towards throughout the entire year. Pace yourself, apply your energy effectively and you’ll experience tip-top health for the short, medium and long-term.
Not sure what to work on first? Here are a few suggestions. Tackle one or two things at a time.
Get plenty of rest
Prioritise rest and recovery and create routine with your sleep patterns. Your resistance to illness and overall day-to-day resilience will be boosted with quality rest.
It’s important to think about staying hydrated all year round. The summer is hotter which acts as a prompt to drink water, but during the winter we move from one artificially heated environment to another and so can dehydrate without even realising. Shorter days in the winter can make you feel tired and being dehydrated will only aggravate any feelings of lethargy. Staying hydrated helps in the fight against winter bugs and germs. You should consume at least 8 – 10 glasses of water every day.
Eat more fruit and vegetables
When it's cold and dark outside it can be tempting to fill up on unhealthy, ‘comfort’ food, but at this time of year it’s more important than ever to include at least five portions of fruit and veg into your daily diet in order to boost your immunity. Winter vegetables can be roasted, mashed or made into soups for healthier comfort food and if you crave something sweet focus on fruit rather than chocolate or biscuits. Always be prepared with healthy snacks so you don’t get tempted with snacks high in sugar or salt.
Should you take supplements?
Trials of supplements such as vitamin C, Zinc, Echinacea and garlic to prevent colds have had mixed results, and in general supplements probably won't prevent a cold. However if you know you aren’t getting the correct immune boosting nutrients from your diet, it may be worth considering taking a multi vitamin.
Reduce alcohol and / or cigarettes
Both smoking and drinking alcohol have been shown to reduce essential vitamins and minerals in our bodies so, to keep your immune system at its peak, it may be a good idea to reduce or even stop completely if possible.
Should you be unfortunate enough to end up sick despite tacking precautions, here’s what you need to do for a speedy recovery.
Avoid spreading illness
Although it is possible to be contagious 1 day before experiencing any symptoms, the old wives tale that you are not contagious once symptoms start is false. Most of the time the virus is spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing and therefore the period when you are most contagious is when symptoms are at their worst, which is usually day 2 to day 4. Do your best not to spread germs to others. This isn’t just a selfless act, it also ensures you don’t pass a virus around and end up sick again a couple of weeks later.
Things you can do to prevent spreading the cold or flu virus
Washing your hands will help avoid transmitting cold and flu viruses. If an infected person sneezes into their hand, and then touches an object the virus can pass from the object to the next person who touches it. By washing your hands, you will be getting rid of any viruses you've picked up.
Use tissues. Put a tissue in front of your mouth and nose when you sneeze and make sure you dispose of it carefully after use.
Avoid touching your nose and eyes. If you have any infected germs on your hands, and you touch your eyes or nose, you can pass the virus into your system, but by avoiding this you will reduce your chances of catching the virus.
Clean down communal surfaces such as telephones, desks and kitchen worktops, again to avoid spreading the virus.
Top tip from the experts: Should you exercise if you’re feeling unwell?
This is a question we get asked a lot at this time of year. The answer is that you don’t necessarily have to stop exercising if you’re feeling under the weather. If you have a fever with a body temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above then exercise would definitely not be advised, but use common sense and listen to your body. If your cold symptoms are not severe and you generally feel OK then a little gentle exercise wont hurt.
The general guideline is that if your symptoms are above the shoulders (runny nose, sore throat, blocked sinuses) you may be fine to continue with light to moderate activity. If your symptoms are below the shoulders (aching bones, shivers or digestive issues) you’re better off resting until you feel recovered before returning to exercise.
Making regular exercise a part of your life makes you feel more energetic in the long run, helps get rid of winter blues and improves your general wellbeing. Your body’s defences may also benefit. There is some limited research suggesting that moderate exercise can strengthen the immune system, thereby reducing the risk of picking up coughs and colds in the first place.