When it comes to colds, you know the drill. Once you have one, the best you can do is chain yourself to a box of tissues and brave the storm. In other words, prevention really is the best medicine. Here, 8 surprisingly effective ways to cut colds off before they start.
1. Wash up
Every time you pick up a public pen (ick!), clutch a treadmill handle, or twist open a doorknob, your hands get populated by tons of germs. That’s why experts say that washing your hands is the single best way to keep from getting sick. You already head for the sink every time you use the bathroom or prepare food, but remember to do so after being around sick people or touching public surfaces. Suds up with soap and hot water for 20 seconds, and don’t forget to scrub between your fingers and under your nails. When you can’t get to a sink, use a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol, and resist the urge to wipe it all away before it dries.
2. Hang out with friends
Research shows that the fewer human connections we have at home, work, and in the community, the more likely we are to get sick. In one study, researchers monitored 276 people between the ages of 18 and 55 and found that those who had six or more friends were four times better at fighting off the viruses that cause colds than those with fewer buddies. Can’t always cram in social time during a busy week? Stop by a co-worker’s office for a quick catch-up or email or text your friends at night to stay in touch when you’re too busy for phone calls.
3. Crank up the humidifier
Low humidity dries out nasal passages, making it harder to trap and eliminate the microbugs that settle in your sinuses and cause colds. Help moisten passages by running a humidifier 24/7, says Tieraona Low Dog, MD, and keep it clean by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Want an extra cold-fighting kick? Add five drops of oregano, eucalyptus, or peppermint oil to the reservoir to reduce germs and freshen the air.
4. Get some sun
People with the lowest vitamin D levels were 36% more likely to have upper respiratory infections compared with those with the most D, found a Harvard study. Not sure if you’re catching enough rays? (It’s tough to know, especially in the winter.) Experts recommend relying on fish, dairy, and supplements to get the recommended 1,000 IU each day.
5. Practice tai chi
This Eastern exercise revs your body’s cold-fighting defenses by as much as 47% (and even triples the protection you get from a flushot). The secret to tai chi’s elixir-like quality, scientists suspect, lies in its slow movements and controlled breathing.
6. Give your toothbrush some breathing room
If someone in your house has come down with a case of the sniffles, it may seem inevitable that you’ll start sneezing, too. One trick to avoid catching their germs: Keep your toothbrushes separate. Put them in separate holders and shake after using so that they dry fast—germs don’t thrive well on dry surfaces. And of course, avoid sharing toothbrushes (gross!).
7. Observe kitchen etiquette
Change your dish towels every day and don’t dry dishes with the same towel that you use for your hands. Even better, let them air dry. Clean your sponges in the dishwasher and change them often.
8. Up your omega-3 intake
If you don’t love fish (or don’t eat the recommended two servings per week), pop an omega-3 supplement daily to reap the fatty acid’s impressive immune-fortifying properties. Research shows the stuff can increase airflow and protect lungs from colds and respiratory infections. Look for purified fish oil capsules that contain at least 1 g combined of EPA and DHA.