How to Avoid Illness During the Cold Season

January is here and February is about to start rounding the corner. With these months, winter has well and truly settled in together with the cold season. Getting sick really puts a damper on your plans for, well, everything, but especially for your fitness goals. And while it may seem impossible to dodge the occasional cold, flu, or something else–especially in the colder months–there are a lot of things you can do to avoid illness.

Written by Lucas Collins
Edited by Pavlína Marek

A screenshot of the Berkeley Half Marathon Post-Illness Recovery article

We’ve already covered how to handle getting sick and what to expect from it regarding your training progress. There’s a lot that impacts your body when you come down with an illness. It’s stressful on all your systems and you might have to take a good amount of time to recover. That precious time you spend recovering, away from training, and making up for what you’ve lost… it would be a lot easier to avoid illness altogether, don’t you think?

Thankfully, you can incorporate preventative practices into your life to do just that! As a bonus, you don’t have to live your life in a sealed bubble to do it. A lot of the following tips to stay healthy are more varied and easier to do than you might initially think.

Personal Hygiene

It should come as no surprise that personal hygiene is the top tip to avoid illness. Much like a wall surrounding a city, your hygiene habits are your last, best line of defense against the woes of disease. The taller, stronger, and better you build your walls, the better they will repel invaders (in this case, those pesky diseases). How do we build effective walls against disease?

Wash Those Paws

The first step is one we’ve been told since we were children. Wash your hands. You use your hands for almost everything throughout the day—and everything you touch, touches you, too. It will leave bits of whatever was on its surface on your hands, be it dust, dirt, or most importantly, germs. The best way to get all that away from you is to wash your hands regularly throughout the day.

  • It’s crucial to wash your hands when you’re knowingly in contact with places that have high chances of harboring something nasty, such as restrooms and kitchens.
  • Public places are also prime candidates to pick something up as dozens or potentially hundreds of people will all be touching the same surfaces.
  • Buses, trains, elevators, gyms, shopping carts, menus at a restaurant, and common touch points like door handles and stair railings are all prime meeting spots for germs.

You should make an effort to wash your hands as soon as you can after interacting with the things listed above, in addition to using your own judgment everywhere else.

How to Effectively Wash Your Hands

WHO (the World Health Organization) has a good demonstration on how to effectively and thoroughly wash your hands. If for some reason the option of washing your hands is unavailable to you, hand sanitizer can be used instead. The higher the alcohol content of the hand sanitizer, the better. It should be noted that while hand sanitizer is effective, it is not a replacement for good hand washing with soap and water.

In addition to keeping your hands clean, you should try to limit how often you touch your face. Your skin acts as an amazing barrier against anything that tries to enter your body. However, your mouth, nose, eyes, and ears are especially vulnerable entry points for disease. The less you touch these areas, the less chance you have of accidentally letting something in.

If you have to touch your face to scratch an itch, adjust your hair or glasses, or anything else, it’s best to wash your hands before and after doing so. You can also use something like a tissue to create a barrier between your hand and face if you can’t clean your hands at that moment.

Healthy Lifestyle

Referring back to our city walls analogy from earlier, a strong wall should be built from good materials and according to the best construction practices. Translating that to personal health, it means we need to constantly give our body the resources it needs and practice habits that will reinforce its ability to resist infection.

Nutrition & Hydration

Resources for our body come in the form of nutrition. The better you nourish your body with the vitamins, minerals, and energy it needs, the more effectively it will avoid illness. A well-nourished body can eliminate most viruses or bacteria that manage to sneak their way inside.

This extends to hydration as well. Drinking enough water is essential to keep yourself healthy and decrease your chances of falling ill. It can also be prudent to avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Both of these activities, especially when done in excess, can weaken your immune system and leave you vulnerable. It’s best to avoid or limit these habits to stay healthy.


The most important habit to stick to is getting enough sleep. Without 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night, your body can’t maintain its immune system to its fullest capacity. Make sure to develop good sleep hygiene habits to give your body the best fighting chance.


On top of sleep, regular exercise is a must. By actively using your body, you’re making it stronger and more resilient to a lot of ailments. The good news is, if you’re already busy training for races, you’re doing great on this step already!

Stress Management

The last helpful habit? Learn to manage your stress levels. It may not seem like it at first glance, but frequent and excessive stress can have real physical consequences. Chronic stress can strain several bodily systems:

  • Your muscles can be constantly tense and feel fatigued.
  • Your airways can constrict and make it harder to get the oxygen you need.
  • Your blood pressure and heart rate can spike as your body releases hormones that place it in a constant “fight, flight, or freeze” mode.

All those issues, combined with others that may occur, take up a lot of available energy. When your body uses that energy to manage your stress responses, it leaves other systems weakened. That includes the immune system, leaving you vulnerable to sickness.

Here’s a bit of good news: both sleep and exercise contribute to lowering and managing your stress levels overall. Therefore, if you’re doing those two things, then you already have a few good ways to keep your stress in check!

Preventative Actions in Your Environment and in Public

The last few things you can do to increase your chances of staying healthy and avoiding illness concern your environmental choices. What can you do to keep the surroundings you spend your time in clean and how you can try to mitigate exposure in public spaces? Remember all those high-risk places we talked about earlier? Well, luckily you have control over some of those spaces and can work to make them safer.

Personal Environment

You have control over how clean your home and property can be. Regular cleaning can vastly decrease the chances you catch something at home as harmful diseases won’t be able to linger in a clean space or on regularly cleaned items. High-touch surfaces and items such as remotes, fridge handles, restroom fixtures, faucets, etc. should be disinfected regularly. Your personal items should follow the same rules. (When was the last time you wiped down your phone?)

Public Environments

The same can be said for your work environment. You can take a moment to make sure your desk, keyboard, mouse, and more are all regularly cleaned. If you don’t work in an office, there will still probably be things you can do to reduce the risk of picking up germs.

In addition, practicing good social behavior at work and in public can help you reduce exposure to other people’s diseases. When you keep a safe distance between yourself and others who may be sick, you will drastically reduce the chances of catching what they have. Wearing a mask in public can also help protect you from more than just COVID-19.

If you take the time to follow these tips as we move into deep winter can help you avoid illness and stay on track for your fitness goals. And while these are all good things to practice year-round, there couldn’t be a better time than this to make sure your health is a priority so you can start training for the next season!

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