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Everything You Need to Know About Not Getting Sick This Winter

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Winter: it's the worst! Not only are you cooped up inside, but you're stuck there fighting some vague illness, eating too much food, drinking lots of booze, and stressing over end-of-year family time. Winter is basically designed to make you feel like crap.

To find out the best way to make it through the colder months illness-free, we dug through the research and talked to Dr. Paul Grewal, internist and assistant medical professor at Hofstra. What we came up with are the best ways to avoid spending the entire season as a sniffling, blanket-covered ball on the couch.

Cover up your cool exterior
"Catching a cold" has nothing to do with a drop in your body temperature, it turns out. Dr. Grewal explains, "The cold virus replicates more efficiently at colder temperatures. Your core temperature is still the same, but your nose and hands are cooler, which helps the virus spread."

Not only does the flu virus replicate more easily in the cold, but it can develop a thick, protective shell when temperatures drop, making it harder to destroy (that's not terrifying at all). With your hands and nose being the typical culprits for collecting and spreading germs, make sure you keep those bad boys covered. People may generally LOVE your cold, tough exterior, but trust us, so does the flu.

Steer clear of staying dry to the bone
If it's not the heat, it's the humidity, but when it's neither the heat nor the humidity, it's flu time. Viruses like dry air, is what we're saying.

Even in higher humidity, cold air can't hold enough water to push viruses to the ground. Combine low relative humidity with cold temperatures, and you've got yourself the perfect storm of viral breeding grounds.

This one-two punch is especially disastrous for your sinuses. Way up in the gold-digger territory of your nose exist thousands of tiny hair-like structures called cilia, which move in rhythm to keep out invaders. Cold, dry conditions cause the cilia to slow down and dry out, creating sinus blockage and opening the door for pathogens.

How do you stop them? Dr. Grewal is a big fan of neti pots (when used properly) for clearing out the sinuses. You could also try humming, since it greatly increases your nasal nitric oxide, which has strong antimicrobial effects.

So disregard your co-workers' complaints, and hum your heart out. Your health is at stake, dammit!

Don't recycle those germs
Now that the cold, dry air outside has set the mood for viral reproduction, let's trap all those germs inside! This is exactly what we do when we blast the heat with no windows open.

Even if the warmer temperatures inside weaken viruses, chances are pretty good that the closed-unit air circulation and close quarters of your office/school/house/gym/mall/IT'S EVERYWHERE fling the bugs from Janice, to Bob, to you, and back again, a dozen times a minute.

Since you'd no longer be employed if you opened all the windows in the office, your best bet is to fortify your defense system. Dr. Grewal recommends washing your hands often throughout the day, emphasizing that recent research shows that it's actually the heat, not the soap, that kills germs. And instead of drinking from the communal coffee pot (sounds pretty gross now, doesn't it?), make yourself a green tea, which contains well-researched antiviral compounds to give your immune system an extra boost.

Or chew on this: xylitol, used to naturally sweeten certain gums, has a proven antimicrobial effect against the strep throat virus.

Just try not to hum, slurp green tea, and smack your gum all at once. That'll land you back in the cold in no time.

Take vitamins that actually work
Do not take vitamin C! Or any derivative that purports to boost immunity thanks to vitamin C! It won't work!

In spite of popular perception, vitamin C does little, if anything, to prevent or treat the common cold. Take just one step further down the vitamin alphabet, and you've found yourself the real immunity hero: vitamin D. Boasting more than just bone-building benefits, vitamin D has recently been hailed for its ability to increase autoimmunity on a cellular level. The good news: your body naturally produces vitamin D just by being in the summer sun for a few minutes.

The not so good news? It's winter, dummy! North of Atlanta, the sun isn't strong enough to initiate the vitamin D process. But before you pack your bags and head to the Big Peach, try getting your D from foods like fish, or even natural supplements containing vitamin D3 (D2 isn't going to help).

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Winter: it's the worst! Not only are you cooped up inside, but you're stuck there fighting some vague illness, eating too much food, drinking lots of booze, and stressing over end-of-year family time. Winter is basically designed to make you feel like crap.