We all know that we are more likely to get sick between October and February but do we know why? Can we blame it on the cooler temps? We call it Cold and Flu season but the last time I checked there were only four seasons and ‘Cold and Flu’ is not one of them. So what gives? Here are four reasons we are more likely to get sick in the winter (AND, what you can do about it):
- Less Sunshine (and therefore less vitamin D)- It’s not that the cold makes us sick, it is that during the summer months, we are naturally exposed to the amazing vitamin D from the warm sun. Most of us are getting a small daily dose of vitamin D during summer months. Vitamin D has many important functions but perhaps the most useful to us is the regulation of absorption of calcium and phosphorous and facilitating healthy immune function. It makes sense that if we are getting less of this nutrient, we are more likely to get sick.
- More Sugar- It is no secret that as the weather turns colder and as the holidays approach our diets change. We go from fresh produce, grilled fish and tons of water during summer months to comfort foods, sweet treats, pumpkin flavored lattes and increased amounts of alcohol. This changing diet is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you are missing out on the immune boosting vitamins and minerals from the fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, increased sugar actually inhibits your body’s ability to defend against viruses and bacteria.
- School is in session- Children go from running and playing outside all day in the sunshine and getting a lot of exercise to sitting inside majority of the day sharing germs. If a kid gets a cold in the summer, he probably only shares it with a sibling. When the same kid gets a cold in October he shares it with everybody! Kids bring the germs home, mom brings it to work, etc. You’ve seen the movie Outbreak- you know how it works.
- Stress- When school starts and the holidays approach, stress levels go up across the board. When we are under increased stress, our immune system is compromised, we make unhealthy choices, our sleep is negatively affected and we are more likely to get sick. Stress tells your body that you are in a fight or flight situation. This is good if we are being chased by a lion but not if we are under a deadline at work. We are not supposed to ‘live’ in stress. We are only made for short bursts of stress. When we are in survival mode, our less essential functions get side-lined and we are more likely to get sick or injured.
So – Is there anything you can do? Of course! The number one thing that anyone can do this time of year is to make his/her own health a priority. That means making sure you are getting enough sleep, managing your stress in healthy ways (meditation, relaxing hobbies, massage therapy etc.), eating a vitamin-packed diet and supplementing with whole food vitamins to fill the gaps, drinking LOTS of water, getting plenty of exercise (varied movements, inside and outside when possible), limiting alcohol and sugar when possible, washing your hands often and for at least 20 seconds each time and staying home when you are not feeling well. Following these tips won’t prevent all sickness but it will give you a fighting chance.