Will Going Out In The Cold Give You A Cold?
Can you really get sick from cold temperatures?
Your mom always told you not to go outside in the cold with wet hair and to bundle up when heading out in frigid winter weather to avoid ending up with a cold.
While there is some truth to this age-old wisdom, the reality is more complicated. A recent review in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise concluded that there’s no scientific support for the idea that exposure to cold temperatures hampers immune function.
So being cold isn’t why you get a cold, but there’s a reason cold and flu season happens when the temperatures drop.
Here’s a look at what actually happens
Many viruses, including influenza, rhinoviruses and coronaviruses, remain infectious longer and replicate faster in colder temperatures. Dry winter air also causes water droplets surrounding viral particles to evaporate rapidly, making them lighter and more airborne. That’s why these viruses spread more easily in winter – what you wear when you head outside doesn’t necessarily make a difference.
More specifically, at winter temperatures, a virus’s outer covering – or envelope – hardens to a rubbery gel that protects the virus as it passes from person to person. At warmer temperatures, the protective gel melts to a liquid phase that isn’t tough enough to protect the virus against the elements, and so the virus loses its ability to spread from person to person.
Plus, cold weather dries out your eyes and the mucous membranes in your nose and throat, causing them to be less effective at filtering out pathogens and making them more susceptible to infection by a virus.
Are you there sun? It’s me, vitamin D
I know I’m constantly harping on this, but being deficient in Vitamin D (the ‘sunshine vitamin’) is extremely prevalent in Americans – one recent study found that 72% of us are lacking vitamin D, which is absolutely essential for immune system health.
The best way to get vitamin D is naturally from the sun. However, if you live above the 37th parallel – anywhere north of St. Louis – you really don’t get much vitamin D from November to March when the sun is low in the sky.
And if you’re not getting enough vitamin D, you’re more than 5 times as likely to get sick from a cold or the flu.
More time indoors leads to more colds
Physical activity, another major factor in immune system function, also tends to drop during the winter. People are three times more likely to skip exercise when temperatures are below freezing.
Instead, people spend more time being sedentary indoors. That usually means more close contact with others, which increases the spread of viruses. Respiratory viruses generally spread within a six-foot radius of an infected person – and when you’re indoors, it’s a lot more difficult to socially distance.
What you can do
While the bottom line is that being wet and cold won’t directly make you sick, here’s what the science supports to help keep your immune system functioning optimally this winter:
1. Take Vitamin D3: Taking a high-dose vitamin D3 supplement can improve your resistance to common colds and infections by a whopping 700%. In fact, the benefit of taking vitamin D3 is about equal to the protective effect of the flu vaccine. Studies suggest taking 1000IU Vitamin D3 per 50lbs of body weight per day.
2. Sleep 7-8 Hours Per Night: Studies have shown that people who sleep six hours a night or less are four times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to a virus compared to those who spend seven to eight hours a night asleep. Sleep is necessary for the production of cytokines – proteins that regulate the body’s immune response and inflammation by sending cells to infected or distressed areas.
3. Wash Your Hands: It’s basic stuff, but it’s worth repeating – regular hand-washing has been shown to reduce your risk of cold and flu infection by 21%.
4. Stop Touching Your Face: Avoid touching your face, something most people do between 9 and 23 times an hour.
5. Stay Active: Regular aerobic exercise has huge immune benefits. And you don’t have to run a marathon, either – moderate activity is all you need. In one study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine, people who did aerobic exercise 5 days per week had nearly half the number of colds as those who didn’t exercise.
6. Stay Hydrated: Eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day (or 1.9 liters) is an easy, reasonable goal to remember, but that’s a little low and we can get more dialed in than that. Here’s what experts recommend as adequate daily fluid intake based on age and sex.
7. Take Zinc At The First Sign of a Cold: Several studies have shown that zinc can reduce the length of a cold by one day, especially when taken within 24 hours of the first signs and symptoms of a cold. Be careful with dosing, though: no more than 40mg per day for adults.
Get tested for Covid-19
Of course, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic in addition to the normal cold and flu season. It’s often difficult to tell whether it’s covid or simply a cold, so if you’re showing symptoms of Covid-19 such as trouble breathing, fever, sore throat or loss of the sense of smell and taste – get tested! Not only does testing help you get treated faster, but you can take steps to minimize the spread of the virus if you’re positive.
Starting this week, Wisconsin residents ages four and up can now get at-home COVID-19 test kits for free through a partnership between the state of Wisconsin and Vault Medical Services.
The Bottom Line
You can help your immune system ward off infections this cold and flu season, but it’s not necessarily by bundling up before you go outside. Get moving, get some vitamin D3, get quality sleep and keep up with your chiropractic care – they’re all proven ways to stay healthy.
Need a chiropractor in the Brookfield, Waukesha, Wauwatosa, or New Berlin Area? Call us at 262-345-4166 to make an appointment or use our online scheduling app – we’d love to help you get the most out of your body!