Cold Weather & Reduced Immunity

November 7, 2022

What a gorgeous weekend we just had in the middle of autumn! It felt so good to get a little summer weather back, albeit briefly. It’s a few weeks before Thanksgiving, and we’re definitely well on our way into autumn. I’ve really started loving this season. The energy of fall is all about change and balance, an invitation to take a moment and slow down.

It’s an opportune time to reflect, re-evaluate and nurture ourselves. We begin to take from fall, one of our greatest lessons of letting go of what we no longer need. Trees don’t weep over its fallen leaves, because they know the leaves have served their purpose and it’s now time to prepare for winter.

In the same way, this is the time for us to check in on who and where and what you’re spending your energy on – taking a deeper look at work, relationships, friendships. If there are relationships and people that aren’t serving you in the way you need or want, it’s time to change that or let it go. Pretty freeing, isn’t it?!

That being said, temperatures are dropping. I’m fairly certain last weekend was the last of that gorgeous warm weather we’re going to see for some time.

At our longevity-based practice, where one of our focuses are on bolstering immunity as we head into cold/flu season, we’re often asked, “Can the cold weather really make you sick?” Maybe many of you recall your moms telling you to zip up your coat or you’ll catch a cold when you were a child? Are you wondering if there’s any truth to that?

The truth is that it’s multifactorial. Cold weather alone doesn’t make you sick BUT there are several factors that make it easier to get sick when it’s cold. For one, viruses survive and reproduce more easily in the cold, dry air of winter. Cold weather also keeps people indoors and viruses replicate more easily in close quarters.

Research has shown us that cold temperatures can make immune cells less effective, but in the end it’s viruses – not the cold weather – are what make you sick. Studies have also demonstrated that viruses replicate more efficiently at temperatures lower than 98.6 F. The temperature inside the nasal cavity is approximately 91.4, which makes it an ideal breeding ground.

Some reasons why cold weather can reduce your immunity, making it harder for the body to fight infections include:

- Reduced vitamin D levels due to reduced sun exposure – vitamin D is an important immunomodulator, so make sure you have your levels checked and aim for a target of 55-60.

- Blood vessel narrowing - breathing in cold and dry air cause blood vessel narrowing in the respiratory tract to conserve heat. This narrowing can prevent white blood cells from reaching mucous membranes where they are needed to fight viruses.

This is where the lifestyle centered medicine we practice at our longevity center, really keeps you in preventive mode. If you’re immune system is strong, you’re better equipped to fight those infections. So here are 3 tips to beef up that immunity:

There is an indisputable link between optimal sleep and having a stronger immune system. A study in the journal Sleep demonstrated that having fewer than 5 hours of sleep per night = 4.5 times the odds of developing a cold than those who slept more than seven hours.

Aim for 7-8.5 hours of high quality sleep every night. Practice good sleep hygiene. Keep your circadian rhythm intact by going to bed and waking up at the same time. Get morning sunlight so your body knows to make melatonin at night.

Focus on getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise – exercise has anti-inflammatory benefits and promotes cellular repair, cell production, and produces immune cells that help you fight disease. In a study of 1,002 adults published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, people who exercised 5 times a week cut their risk of colds by nearly half compared to people who were largely sedentary.

Eating right is no less important given that about 70% of the immune system is housed in gut. Your list of healthy foods should include green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, nuts, berries, fish, whole grains, foods rich in vitamin A, C, E and garlic. Putting good food in your body benefits your overall immune system.

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