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How To Keep From Getting Sick When You're Meeting Lots of People

Back-to-school time means lots of hand shaking and contact with new people, including your kids' new teachers and all your kids’ 10 million friends — but those hands could carry germs. How do you lower your risk of catching a fall cold? These pointers may help keep you sniffle-free.

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1. Go to bed earlier. Getting more sleep may help protect you. In one study, 153 healthy males and females between the ages of 21 and 55 were given nasal drops containing rhinovirus (the most frequent cause of the common cold) and were then quarantined and monitored. The ones who said they slept for, on average, fewer than seven hours per night were 2.94 times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept for at least eight hours a night.

2. Lower your stress level. Research shows that this strategy may be effective at helping you stay healthy. In another study, after they completed questionnaires that assessed their stress levels, 394 healthy people were given nasal drops that contained one of five respiratory viruses. Then they were quarantined and monitored. The more psychological stress that the people reported, the more likely they were to develop a respiratory infection. To reduce your stress, try listening to relaxing music. Research has found that putting on a calming classical song can help lower the response of the stress hormone cortisol.

3. Stop touching your face. Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes—your hands may be contaminated with a virus—to help ward off sickness. A study that observed 249 people while they were in public places found that people touch their noses or mouths 3.6 times per hour, on average, and common objects 3.3 times per hour, on average. Of course, it's a great idea to wash your hands with soap and water as frequently as you can (or use hand sanitizer) to kill off any germs, but that option is not always available and, even if it is, it's quite easy to re-contaminate your hands after washing them (like by touching your phone), so try to use a tissue whenever you need to touch your face.

4. Remember the basics. These core healthy habits—including eating a diet that's high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in saturated fat, exercising regularly, maintaining a weight that's in a normal BMI range, and not smoking—can help support your immune system, which can help you fend off a cold and other diseases.

5. Keep your distance from people who look sick. While it's good to be friendly, remember that you don't have to shake every person's hand. If someone is coughing or sneezing and not covering his or her mouth with a tissue or elbow, make up an excuse and say, "I'd love to chat but I have to run!" Without being rude, you don’t have to linger. According to the CDC, droplets from a sneeze or cough can travel in invisible gas clouds farther than you might think—potentially for yards.