It’s no secret that winter is a time when many people develop colds, viruses and sometimes, the flu. Influenza is most commonly found in winter, as the illness usually strikes between December and March. Furthermore, many people start to develop sore throats, runny noses and other cold symptoms during the winter months.
A common misconception is that being cold can actually lead to developing a sickness. This was disproved in experiments conducted years ago, which found that volunteers who were exposed to a cold virus in both warm and cold conditions became sick at equal rates.
One possible reasoning behind the uptick in illnesses during the winter is that people spend more time inside, in what some call “the breathing zone.” Spending more time inside means that viruses can spread more easily, as a virus can spread when people are within three to six feet of each other.
In addition, some evidence suggests that our immune systems may be more susceptible to viruses in winter, and certain viruses survive best in the cold. Cold weather ultimately puts a strain on our bodies — it can constrict our airways, reduce our body’s ability to fight an infection and create stress for our cardiovascular system.
Finally, winter is often linked with seasonal depression, specifically for college students. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder associated with depressive episodes and related to the change in seasons and light. College freshmen are especially susceptible to SAD due to a number of factors such as the physical move to college and the added stress of adjusting to college.
Staying physically and mentally healthy in the winter can clearly be a challenge, but that’s why it’s more important than ever to take preventative measures during what can be an easy time to overeat and stay inactive.
So what can you do to keep yourself healthy in the winter?
The CDC recommends getting a flu vaccine every year as well as avoiding those who are sick. On college campuses, avoiding sick students can sometimes be difficult, but that’s why it is recommended to wash your hands with soap and water often, as well as avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes to avoid easily spreading germs.
For those who are sick, the CDC recommends they stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever goes away. Even if you aren’t sick, you should always cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. The CDC suggests covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throwing the tissue away.
Furthermore, there are easy ways to prevent getting sick, such as getting enough sleep every night, eating well and exercising regularly. A 2012 study across nine cities found that a nine degree increase in temperature led to a 14% increase in the number of pedestrians walking outside.
While it’s understandable that the cold weather makes people want to avoid going outside, this doesn’t mean that you should neglect physical activity altogether. In fact, regular exercise can help to avoid not only physical illness but also mental illness, such as SAD.
Overall, winter can be a tough time both physically and mentally. For students, winter is often associated with finals and stress. That’s why it’s important for students to take good care of themselves in the winter, more than ever, to ensure they stay healthy and sharp for finals season.
Winter is a great time to stay in and enjoy indoor activities, but it’s important not to let the act of staying inside keep you from staying active and healthy. Take care of yourselves this winter, Badgers, and before you know it, the terrace chairs will be out again!
Courtney Degen ([email protected]) is a junior studying political science and journalism.