As the cold air and grey skies return to govern the weather forecast for the winter, so come the illnesses. The consistency of winter spawning sickness is akin to unstoppable pairings such as Roger Federer and his tennis racket; the chances of victory over them are slim.
We have conceded to the notion that getting sick in the winter is inevitable and avoidable by luck alone.
The association is one that has grown so strong that we have accepted this as our fate and stopped asking why winter is accompanied with sickness.
To further the tennis analogy, if you were to match up against Roger Federer, you know that the probability of winning is far less than likely.
Why do you know you are most likely going to lose to him? The simple and correct answer is because he is better at tennis than you are.
A more detailed explanation would reveal that he is better than you because he has spent thousands of hours on the tennis court perfecting his serves, groundstrokes, volleys and overheads. His personal trainers, psychologists, and dietitians also display that your resources are worryingly outmatched by his expert support team.
Just as there is a reason for why Roger Federer is more than likely to beat you 6-0, 6-0, 6-0; there are many reasons for why the winter months are designated as the cold and flu season.
But unlike your pretty much predestined outcome against Roger Federer, the causations of many winter illnesses are preventable through preparation. Now, let’s discuss a few possible reasons for why sickness moves in with the seasons.
Vitamin D: The Snowbird Vitamin
As a result of the sun taking its annual sabbatical, we lose our primary source of vitamin D. Not only does a golden bronze give you a ravishing aesthetic, the same ultraviolet rays from sunshine stimulate vitamin D synthesis.
In the elongated grey days of winter, when vitamin D uptake is dependent upon diet (obtaining optimal vitamin D levels via diet is an extremely challenging task which would require an eight ounce wild caught salmon fillet twice per day) the downward trend of vitamin D levels are imminent, which leads to greater susceptibility of sickness severity in intensity and duration.
One report studying almost 19,000 subjects between 1988 and 1994 found that Individuals with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to self-report upper respiratory tract infection than those with sufficient levels. The study concluded, “the association of lower serum vitamin D levels and infection held during each season.”2.
Vitamin D modulates immune responses by enhancing the antimicrobial effects of macrophages and monocytes, which are the cells that fight off pathogens. To put it in simple terms, vitamin D is your body’s most key defense vitamin.
Consider it the special forces of vitamins; capable of assassinating foreign invaders that pose as a threat to health. A sharp immune response requires an abundance of vitamin D and when people lack this key nutrient, sickness transpires more frequently with greater vengeance. The absence of sun (our primary source of vitamin D) and winter’s sicknesses is a correlation that is too significant to sideline.
Stress: An Invitation for Illness
When the sun is shining, optimism for our personal lives and enthusiasm for others are characteristics that almost become second nature. On the other hand, maintaining a positive mindset in winter’s midst is a challenge for many temperate climate dwellers.
It is well established that depression is associated with seasonal changes. It is reported that more than 10 million Americans are diagnosed with seasonal affective depression in the winter months.
Furthermore, individuals who struggle with year-long depression and stress often experience greater symptoms in the winter. Now, you are probably wondering what your mental state has to do with your immune defenses. As unusual as it sounds, it turns out that a period of stress will disrupt a wide variety of immune functions including the inhibition of lymphocyte circulation and communication, which is critical when one’s immunity is tested. A proper antibody response is also impaired in depressed individuals.
Considering America is the land of the stressed and depressed, it is not unrealistic to believe that we are predispositioned to greater chances of getting sick. Mindset plays a critical role in protection against sickness and understanding that mindsets are considerably less healthy in the wintertime gives reason as to why sicknesses are more substantial during this season.
Exercise: Not Just for Swimsuit Season
Whether we are hearing it from the doctor or reading it in the Oprah magazine, we all know that exercising promotes weight loss and muscle growth.
However, the majority of Americans still live inactive lives despite this never-ending messaging strategy. Exercise doesn’t just keep adipose tissue from accumulating, it also keeps sickness at bay. It is thoroughly reported that exercise motivation coincides with the weather report.
In the summer months, the impulse to workout is often motivated by the desire to look good for the upcoming pool party. Although this is a valid reason to exercise, it leaves many to believe that exercise's adaptations are solely superficial. To the contrary, exercise provides countless benefits to the body that are not seen on the Instagram swimsuit post.
Regular exercise is understood to be a critical immune system adjuvant, specifically by improving the antipathogen passages of tissue macrophages as well as enhanced recirculation of immunoglobulins, anti-inflammatory cytokines, neutrophils, NK cells, cytotoxic T cells, and immature B cells.
Translation: exercise is essential for immune vitality and therefore, combating sickness. Inasmuch as the weather being uninviting in the winter, workout routines halt which leads to an inactive immune response.
These examples are just three ways which sickness manifests so greatly in the winter. In reality, there are thousands of micro decisions that we make on a daily basis that condition the way our bodies respond when they are being tested by the cold or flu.
Instead of going through the winter wondering when you are going to get sick, ask yourself why you might get sick and take the steps to fortify your immunity so that your constitution remains unquestionably prepared.
Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash