Colds are messy, uncomfortable, annoying, and—unfortunately—very common. Although they're not dangerous in an otherwise healthy person, cold viruses can interfere with work, social plans, and sleep. But there's good news: Experts say it's possible to reduce your chances of an achy head, scratchy throat, and stuffy or runny nose. Here are four ways to prevent cold germs from taking over.

1. Wash Your Hands

Since cold viruses are easily transmissible, an easy way to reduce your risk of getting one is to be diligent about hand washing. Of course, you should wash your hands after using the bathroom, but it's also a great idea to do the same if you've been out and about—germs are rife in fixtures for public use, like handrails and doorknobs. Don't forget that offices also are breeding grounds for colds, so sanitize surfaces that are touched by multiple people, such as computer keyboards and phones, and wash your hands frequently after using shared electronics.

2. Keep Your Immune System in Germ-Fighting Shape

Since your body relies on its immune system to fight off colds, bolster yours with regular exercise. Experts caution that immune-boosting exercise should be moderate rather than intense, as heavy exercise actually may stress the body and make it more prone to infection. Walking, bicycling, swimming, and lifting weights a few times a week will keep your germ-fighting abilities at their peak.

3. Watch Your Diet

Also important in keeping yourself free from sniffles and coughing is a healthy diet. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, prioritize protein and vitamins A, C, E, and zinc for a strong immune system. Popping some extra zinc when you first feel a cold coming on may also help reduce the severity of your symptoms.

4. Snooze Rules

You can exercise, eat well, and wash your hands diligently, but if you skimp on sleep, you're setting yourself up to get sick. A 2009 study carried at out Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that less sleep may equal more illness. The study put 153 healthy volunteers into contact with a cold virus, then isolated them in a hotel for five days and monitored them for cold symptoms. Fifty-four of the subjects came down with a cold—but those who had reported sleeping less than seven hours a night during the two weeks prior to getting the virus were almost three times more likely than the other subjects to become sick. The message? Make time for quality shut-eye, as it's a real immune booster.

Karen H. Calhoun, MD, FACS, FAAOA, reviewed this article.



  1. Karen H. Calhoun, MD, FACS, FAAOA, professor in the department of otolaryngology, The Ohio State University, Columbus. Email interview February 2014.
  2. Carnegie Mellon University. "Not Sleeping? You May Catch a Cold," Web. Accessed 11 February 2014.
  3. American Academy of Dietetics. "Protect Your Health With Immune-Boosting Nutrition," Web. Accessed 11 February 2014.
  4. National Institutes of Health. "Exercise and Immunity," Web. Accessed 11 February 2014.