How to Avoid Wintertime Illnesses

Sickness. While it may be fun as a child because it allows you to watch TV in bed, being sick as an adult is an entirely different story. Work, school, family life, and home responsibilities don’t stop. Most of us have to get up and push through our busy schedules regardless of how we are feeling.

If you stop to think about it, most of our sick days occur in the wintertime. Here are several theories behind why we often become sick during winter (1):

  • It’s the most wonderful time of the year…….for viruses! Viruses tend to enjoy cold, dry climates often found during wintertime.
  • More Time Indoors. With the cold weather, we tend to remain indoors with the windows sealed tight. The closer quarters leaves us breathing in each other’s air and exposes us to more germs.
  • Less Sunlight. During the wintertime, there is less sunlight and less sunlight leads to lower levels of melatonin and vitamin D. These lower levels compromise our immune system, making it more likely for us to become sick.

One of the most beneficial ways to prevent wintertime sickness is by giving our immune system the upper hand. Here are a few general health practices that can keep your immune system functioning optimally:

  • Get a flu shot! The best time to get a flu shot is in October before flu season starts (it takes ~2 weeks to build an immune response to the virus). However, it can still be beneficial to get one while flu season is still going on. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or "CDC" (2), “Flu vaccine prevents millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor’s visits each year. For example, during 2016-2017, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 5.3 million influenza illnesses, 2.6 million influenza-associated medical visits, and 85,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations.”
  • Handwashing is key! According to the CDC (2), “Studies have shown that handwashing can prevent 1 in 5 respiratory infections, such as a cold or the flu.” When washing your hands, thoroughly scrub in between your fingers, and make sure to use enough soap. Scrub your hands for at least twenty seconds (i.e. sing “Happy Birthday” twice through).
  • Eat your fruits and vegetables! Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables ensures our body is getting a variety of essential nutrients - nutrients that are important for good immune functioning. When we think of fruits and vegetables, we tend to think of farmers markets, and fresh summer produce. However, there are still a variety of delicious, in-season fruits and vegetables during the wintertime.  Go to for a list of fruits and vegetables that are currently in-season.
  • Don’t forget to move! Moderate exercise can boost your immune system. Whether it’s a run, a weightlifting session, an at-home workout or a walk around the block, don’t forget to move!
  • Get enough sleep, but not too much! Adequate rest will keep your body, including your immune system, functioning at its best. It is recommended that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night (3).

Give your immune system the upper hand this winter by getting a flu shot, washing your hands correctly, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly and getting adequate amounts of sleep!


  1. Elert, E. 2013. FYI: Why is There a Winter Flu Season? Popular Science.  <> [2 November, 2014].

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