The Betterment Project

How to Prevent a Cold and Avoid Getting Sick

By Leah Polakoff


There’s a reason it’s called the common cold: It’s always there, ready to make life miserable like your drunk uncle at the holiday party.


The average adults catches two to three colds per year. And men often report experiencing the worst symptoms. It’s called “man flu,” you big babies. And an analysis on rodents published in the British Medical Journal suggest that the blame could fall to hormonal differences between men and women.


So are you ready to fortify the armor of your immune system? We’ve arranged a defense plan that starts with the most practical advice at the top, and moves to the most adventurous at the bottom.  


  1. Get a Flu Shot

If you haven’t already, make time this week to get your arm pricked. Most pharmacies can administer the vaccine in just a few minutes, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it will reduce your risk of illness by 40 to 60 percent, depending on the year.


  1. Give Yourself a Daily Sweat Session

One of the many effects of exercise is that it supercharges your immune system and makes you better able to handle viral attacks. In a review of four randomized studies, researchers found that people who work out moderately at least five times per week are 27 percent less likely to come down with a cold than those who don’t exercise. What’s more, the exercises had faster bounce-back times: When they did get sick, their recovery was 3.5 days faster.


  1. Upgrade Your Vitamin Game

Your health is more like a basketball game than a dunk contest: It takes a full team to win. So while men often attempt to bolster their immune systems with vitamins C or D, it’s more important to get a full roster of all-starts.  


That’s one of the driving principles behind our Superhuman Supplements. “Everything is meant to work synergistically to create balance,” says Jay Cowin, Asystem’s director of formulations. “By maximizing hormones, omega balance, vitamins, and minerals, we improve the body’s immunity.”


And it’s not just a matter of getting some of every nutrient; it’s about getting adequate amounts for optimal health, says Cowin. Think of the government’s RDA, or recommended daily allowance, as your minimum. Then go up from there.


So yes, we provide doses of both vitamins C and D that far exceed your RDA. But we also deliver a deep supporting bench of compounds like iodine, which typically comes from fish and dairy foods. Iodine kills fungus, bacteria, viruses, and microorganisms. The RDA for an adult man is 150 micrograms per day, but with our Superhuman Supplements, we provide 500 micrograms. So even if you miss your day’s dietary goals, you’ll still be adequately covered.


  1. Wash Your Hands

No shit, right? But listen: Keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to rid your body of pathogens that threaten your immune system—especially if you work in an office with colleagues who regularly bring their kids’ germs to work with them.


Any time you’re in the bathroom (or even if you’re just walking by) give your hands a thorough scrub with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Doing it regularly and correctly can reduce the risk of respiratory illnesses, such as colds, by 16-21 percent, says the (CDC).


  1. Give Yourself an Earlier Bedtime

Burning the midnight oil is a fast way to flame out. A study from the University of California – San Francisco found that people who log fewer than six hours a night are four times more likely to become ill when exposed to a virus, compared to people who slept seven hours or more.


The results held true regardless of age, stress levels, race, or other cofounding variables. So to give your immune system the best fighting chance, plan on spending seven to nine hours in bed each night.


  1. Take a Cold Shower

Research published in the journal PLOS ONE found that people who ended their showers with a burst of cold water had a 29 percent reduction in sick days compared to those who stuck to warm showers. The researchers randomly assigned more than 3,000 people to either shower as usual or self-administer a blast of icy water for 30 to 90 seconds at the end. Those in the second group were healthier.


And get this: Participants who regularly worked out in addition to the cold shower were the healthiest of all. They saw a 54 percent reduction in sick days, compared to people who did neither. So go ahead and stick that cold shower on the end of that tough gym session.


  1. Stop Being Such a Sourpuss

Smile, pal! Research from the Center for the Advancement of Health shows that people who are depressed, nervous, or angry are at a greater risk for cold symptoms, while those who are energetic, happy, and relaxed are less likely to become sick.


The study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, also found that among those participants who came down with a cold, the ones with negative outlooks were more likely to complain about their symptoms than those who were generally happy.


If you’re struggling with depressions, this is your queue to seek medical help. But if you’re just battling crankiness, then take a moment to be grateful. While you’re at it, schedule few minutes of meditation into your daily routine, and bite your tongue the next time you feel the urge to complain. Try taking a few deep breaths, instead. Inhale, exhale. Doesn’t that feel good?


  1. Get a Tattoo (or Two or Three!)

Okay, this is a little extreme. But if you’re a biker, a pirate, or an otherwise adventurous person, it might be worth a shot. A small study from the University of Alabama found that receiving multiple tattoos might actually fortify your immune system.


Here’s how it works: As the needle pierces your skin, the body increases two competing compounds: immunoglobulin A, an antibody that helps fight infection, and cortisol, a stress hormone that suppresses immunoglobulin A. With each new tattoo, the body adapts: immunoglobulin A increases, and cortisol decreases.


The upshot is that your immune system becomes more efficient with every tribal on your back or barbed-wire band on your bicep. It’s not totally clear whether the effect is limited to tissue damage or whether it can also help your immune system fight other battles, but hey—it’s worth a shot.

Meet our Experts

This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.

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