10 Ways To Avoid Getting Sick During The Holidays

'Tis the season for sniffles. Here's how to avoid germs, stop viruses, and boost your immune season all winter long.

December 6, 2017
sick during the holidays

The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year—unless you get sidelined with a sore throat, runny nose, or something worse. “Your immune system is weaker because you’re stressed, skipping workouts, and not eating right, and then you’re confronted with all the germs at crowded stores and big parties,” explains Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at the New York University Langone Medical Center. But sniffling away the season isn’t inevitable. 

(Brag your love of gardening with the Organic Life 2018 Wall Calendar, featuring gorgeous photographs, cooking tips and recipes, plus how to eat more—and waste less—of what's in season.)

Use these strategies, and you'll ring in the New Year on a healthy note. 

order things online
Ariel Skelley/getty
Order Gifts And Groceries Online

Minimize the time you spend in crowded stores and supermarkets to reduce your risk of getting sick, says Goldberg. Shopping carts in particular are a bacterial breeding ground. One study at the University of Arizona in Tuscan turned up colistrom bacteria on 72 percent of grocery-store carts and E. Coli on more than 20 percent of them.

Consider cleaning cart handles with an antibacterial wipe; some chains such as Whole Foods Market and Target provide them near the cart stands. Here are 5 more easy ways to avoid getting sick at the grocery store.

workout outside
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Move Your Workout Outdoors

Ironically, going to the gym can also increase your chances of spending the week between Christmas and New Year’s sick in bed, says Laura Cipullo, RD, author of Women’s Health's Body Clock Diet and founder of L'ifestyle Lounge, a self-care center in New Jersey. The Grinch-worthy stats: 63 percent of gym equipment harbors cold viruses, according to a study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.

Weights are more likely to be contaminated than treadmills and stationary bikes. “Walk, run, or bike around your neighborhood instead,” suggests Cipullo. “By doing so, you’ll also get a healthy dose of vitamin D from sunlight, which will boost your immune system.” If you have no time to work out during the day, opt for a nighttime fitness class that doesn’t require equipment, or book a yoga class and bring your own mat.

Related: The Surprising Side Effect Of A Winter Hike

party grub
Take Precautions At Parties

You might be worried about shaking hands with other guests, but that greeting probably isn’t the biggest transmitter of sickness at holiday parties.

What is? Buffets.

Once food is left at room temp for more than two hours, its bacteria levels may become high enough to cause food-borne illness, aka a stomach virus. Make your plate in the beginning of the party to help avoid the risk. And if a food, like shrimp cocktail, that’s supposed to be cold feels lukewarm, don’t eat it. (And don't bother with these 5 totally useless things we all do to avoid germs.)

washing hands
Wash Your Hands

Suppose you touched a surface that contained strep bacteria. You’re not doomed for the worst sore throat of your life! If you lather up with soap and warm water and scrub for at least 20 seconds, you can remove germs from your hands before they enter your body, says Goldberg. She suggests washing your hands more frequently in the weeks leading up to the holidays. No sink around? “Hand sanitizer is better than nothing,” she says.

Related: 9 Supplements For Cold And Flu Season

touching your face
Admir Dervisevic / EyeEm/getty
Don’t Touch Your Face So Much

Germs can’t enter your body until you touch your mouth, eyes, or nose. So try to break yourself of that unconscious habit; one study from the National Institutes of Health found that people touch their face in public more than three times an hour.

Try making this immune boosting echinacea tincture:

getting a shot
Terry Vine/getty
Get A Flu Shot

“It’s the top thing you can do to protect yourself from being out of commission for a week or more,” says Goldberg. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the antibodies to develop in your body, so get a shot right away. It's so easy to check this off your to-do list, too—you can walk into most major drugstores with a pharmacy department and get vaccinated on the spot.  Check out these 4 foods that will make your flu worse.

christmas tree
Mykola Sosiukin/getty
Simplify The Season

Since the stress hormone corticosteroid makes your immune system effective, think about what would make you calmer in the next couple of weeks, suggests Goldberg. “If you traditionally cook a lot for a party at your place, consider making it a potluck this year,” she suggests. Also avoid gift overload, especially for the kids. One strategy: Limit each child to four presents—something wanted, something needed, something to wear, and something to read. Or skip the gifts completely this year; here are 5 ways to do a present-free holiday.

Related: 5 Signs You're Headed For A Holiday Breakdown—And 5 Ways To Stop Stressing So Much

avocado toast
Focus On Unprocessed Foods

At holiday gatherings, fill your plate with produce, nuts, seafood, and lean meats, suggests Cipullo. It’s okay to have a treat, but keep your portion reasonable and make sure it’s something you really love. “Make breakfast a priority because it’s the one meal that you’ll probably be able to have at home almost everyday,” she says. Her go-to: sprouted whole-grain toast topped with avocado slices and a hard-boiled egg. (Check out these 30 healthy breakfasts for tasty ideas.)

alarm clock
Rana Faure/getty
Maintain Your Sleep Schedule

Not getting your usual amount of zzzs can also make you more prone getting sick, says Goldberg. Don’t burn yourself out now thinking you’re going to catch up after Christmas. Limit yourself to one drink at a party because while alcohol might help you fall asleep faster, it increases the chances that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night. (Here are 7 more reasons you can't fall back asleep.)

Dan Brownsword/getty
Take Time For Yourself

Avoid the mall, kitchen, and party circuit for a day just to focus on you. “Treat yourself to a massage or even just a warm bath,” suggests Goldberg. After all, according to a study at Carnegie Mellon University, happy people are more immune to colds. These 5 amazing benefits of being kinder to yourself will help convince you.