“Does walking on a cold floor without socks (or going outside without a coat/hat, etc.) increase your chances of getting sick?”
—Nelson A., Elgin Community College, Illinois
Honestly—probably not. We refer to this in the medical community as the “theory of chill.”
In fact, there’s some evidence that exercising in cold weather may decrease your chances of catching a cold. In one meta-analysis, there was a 50 percent decrease in the incidence of colds in patients, including marathon runners and skiers, who engaged in intense activity in extreme conditions, according to a 2013 study by the Department of Public Health at the University of Helsinki, Finland. Researchers are still unsure as to the reasons why the extreme conditions seemed to benefit these patients.
On average, adults will get two or three colds a year. Although the cause is probably not due to the cold weather, that doesn’t keep friends or family from saying “I told you so” when you catch a cold a few days after you didn’t wear your sweater outside. People tend to create correlations in their minds, even if it isn’t necessarily true. That’s just human nature.
We catch more colds in the winter months because we are in closer proximity to more people, says a 2009 review in Yale Scientific, a magazine published by Yale University undergraduates.
In addition, it is my untested and unproven opinion that the dry air in frequently overheated but under-humidified residence halls leads to dryness and irritation of the nasal passages and airways. This may make you more vulnerable to infection by viruses that cause colds.
If you’re really interested in not getting a cold or other illness, try washing your hands carefully, and avoid touching your eyes or mouth until you’ve washed your hands.
Dr. Davis Smith is an internist practicing in Connecticut and at Trinity College in Hartford. He specializes in the care of adolescents and GLBTQ patients.