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21 Things You Should Never Do in Winter

Never get sick thanks to this essential advice from doctors.

They call it the most wonderful time of the year. It's also a time for raging colds, painful backaches and dangerous slips and falls. Take control of your health with these 21 things you should avoid doing this and every winter, from the country's top doctors.


Don't Be Too Concerned About Hats

couple having fun outdoor in winter. Young man covering eyes his girl with woolen cap

Sorry mom, but it's just not true—you don't lose 50% of your body heat through your head. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, the head accounts for about 7 percent of the body's surface area, and the heat loss is basically equal to that amount (nowhere near 50 percent). 

The Rx: The study's author concludes that it's a matter of individual preference whether or not to wear a hat to stay comfortable.


Always Wear a Scarf

woman covering face with woolen

"According to traditional East Asian principles, natural factors like wind, heat, cold and dampness can enter the body from the back of the neck," says Dr. Tom Ingegno, DACM, MSOM, LAC. "There are several acupuncture points between the base of the skull and the top of the shoulders that have the word 'wind' in the name, and the theory is wind blowing on these areas brings illness. This is mainly because when you keep your body warm, the energy your body makes keeps your immune system working."


Never Forget Vitamin D

cheerful woman wearing shades enjoying sun in winter

Most American's are deficient in Vitamin D all year long, but it can be extra hard to get enough of the "Sunshine Vitamin" in the winter months. That's because we get most of our Vitamin D when our skin absorbs UVB rays from the sun. In the winter, we're all bundled up under heavy coats, so not as much skin is exposed. On top of that, the sun's rays become so indirect that our bodies just can't absorb the UVB as well. Low levels of Vitamin D are linked with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), bone and muscle loss, increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and other problems.

The Rx: Your doctor can perform a simple blood test to check your levels of Vitamin D. You can also get a boost by eating healthy foods rich in the vitamin like mushrooms, tuna, and pork chops.


Never Shovel Snow Without a Warmup

Man Clearing Snow From Path With Shovel

It snowed five inches last night, and you're already late to work. But before you rush outside to shovel, consider this: you could be digging your own grave. "More than 100 people die each year shoveling snow," says Nina Geromel PT, DPT, ATC. "In general, people are more sedentary during the winter. So, when you couple that with a high-intensity aerobic workout like shoveling, it can put a bigger strain on your heart and cause a heart attack."

The Rx: Warm up like you would before going for a run. You'll be out in the cold and doing an intense aerobic exercise shoveling all that snow, so do some squats and stretches before you head out the door.

RELATED: 40 Ways You're Treating Your Heart Wrong


Never Wear High Heels

People cross the intersection of 42nd St. during the big snow storm in Manhattan

They say fashion means pain—just don't walk the runway to the ER. Ice isn't always easy to see on a sidewalk, so when you walk too fast in slippery footwear it could spell disaster. According to the Mayo Clinic, older adults are at particular risk of injury from wintertime falls. "I see a lot of people for falls on ice," says Carol Thelen, CRNP of Mercy Medical Center. "They often say they didn't see the 'black ice'."

The Rx: We're not telling you to sell your favorite pair of heels. But don't wear them outside in cold weather—here could be ice you can't see on the sidewalk. Invest in a pair of snow boots or shoes with grippy soles to help slips.


Never Skip Your Flu Shot

Woman gets vaccination influenza, flu shot, HPV prevention with doctor pediatrician hold medical syringe

You've always been lucky—never had the flu before. So why bother getting a shot this year? Because the odds aren't in your favor. Last year, more than 647,000 people were hospitalized and 61,200 died due to flu complications. The CDC says everyone older than 6 months should get the flu shot, with very rare exceptions. Despite claims to the contrary, the flu vaccine is safe, and it prevents millions of illnesses every year. Flu viruses evolve quickly, which is why you need to get a shot each year. And, your flu shot can help keep others out of the hospital.

"The flu is a serious illness," says Dr. Holly Phillips, Board Certified General Internist in Manhattan and Medical Expert for RxSaver. "Those at highest risk are babies, the elderly, and people with underlying conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart disease. Children are even more likely to get the flu than adults, in part, because they go to school where germs spread like wildfire."

The Rx: Ask your doctor about getting a flu shot today. You might also be able to get your vaccine at a local pharmacy or clinic as a walk-in, no appointment needed.


Never Stop Counting Your Steps

Apple iWatch Activity tracker on hand
Eat This, Not That! Health

Winter can be tough. It's dark outside when you head to work, and it's dark when you're on the way home. It's much easier to wake up on the sunny side of your bed when the sun is, well, shining. But don't let that turn you into a couch potato. "Colder weather means we're less likely to get enough steps in, and less likely to spend time outdoors," says Amy Chow, RD. 

The Rx: When your fitness tracker says "it's time to stand"—do it. You can take a brisk walk around the office, or find a Zumba class to get your booty shaking and your workouts happening even in the wintertime.


Never Stay Up All Night

woman in pajamas staying up late at night eating pizza and watching tv

A good night's sleep is vital to your health. That's because sleep helps your body heal, and keeps your immune system working. Not getting enough sleep is dangerous, not just because you're drowsy and cranky to your coworkers. When you get too little sleep chronically, you are at greater risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease and other health problems. "Getting eight hours of sleep is very important. It helps strengthen your immune systems defense system," says Dr. Myles Spar, MD, chief medical officer of Vault Health.

The Rx: Netflix will still be there tomorrow. Go to bed.


Never Forget Your Carbon Monoxide Detector

Close-up Of Electrician Hands Removing Battery From Smoke Detector

Most of us know to check our smoke alarms, but when's the last time you thought about carbon monoxide? It's an odorless and colorless gas that can kill you if you breathe it in for too long in an unventilated environment. Winter is when you should really watch out for carbon monoxide poisoning because the gas can be released by faulty heating systems or gas-powered appliances, and you're less likely to leave windows open during cold weather. According to the CDC, "Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized."

The Rx: Make sure you have battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors in your home, and replace the batteries at least twice a year. (A good way to remember is to change them out at Daylight Savings Time).

RELATED: 100 Ways Your Home Could Be Making You Sick


Never Eat Emotionally

Woman wearing holiday sweater eating fired chicken and licking fingers in winter

If you have a swanky holiday party coming up, don't starve yourself all day long in anticipation of binge-eating later. It's not good for you in the long run. "A lot of people have black-and-white thinking about food, where they go on a diet or go all out," says Amy Chow, RD. "Emotional eating often revolves around guilt and shame of the diet culture, and this is where people are most likely to overindulge." 

The Rx: Keep grab-and-go healthy options on hand during the day so you can fuel up easily. "I always keep a stash of Chomps in the glove compartment for a quick snack that's healthy and full of protein," says Maggie Michalczyk, RDN. 


Never Hide Your Winter Blues

Winter depressed sad girl lonely by home window looking at cold weather upset unhappy

The winter months can be extra tough on people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It's pretty normal to feel a little blue in the wintertime, when the sun shines less and the cold nights seem to stretch on forever. But if you notice the sadness is creeping into your daily life and making you depressed, you might be experiencing SAD. According to the Mayo Clinic, you might have SAD if you have low energy, feel down most of the time, have trouble concentrating and it all seems to happen during the winter months. SAD seems to be most common among people who live far from the equator, perhaps due to the limited sunlight they get during the winter months.

The Rx: If you're worried about the symptoms of SAD, talk to your doctor or therapist right away. Mental health is just as important as physical health, so there's no reason to put off an appointment. 


Never Drive Tired

sleepy tired fatigued yawning exhausted young man driving his car

Driving to and from holiday parties can make anyone exhausted. It might seem like it's not a big deal—"we all do it," you might think—but it can be deadly. According to the National Sleep Foundation, drowsy driving is downright dangerous. In fact, driving sleepy has nearly the same effect on the body as drinking alcohol. Being awake for 18 hours straight is like having a blood alcohol level of .05 (the legal limit is .08). Your reaction times will be slowed, along with your judgement—not a good mix on dark, icy roads.

The Rx: If you're tired, pull over somewhere safe for a quick snooze, or ask someone else to drive. It's better to be late to the holiday party than to get into a wreck.


Never Skip the Sink

Washing hands with soap

The simple habit of washing your hands is can keep you from getting sick. According to the CDC, proper handwashing is one of the most important things you can do for your health. That's because feces carries nasty bugs like norovirus, Salmonella, and E. coli that cause illness. Other germs can spread if you touch a hard surface with unwashed hands, where it can stay alive for a surprising amount of time. "The flu can survive on hard surfaces like computer keyboards and doorknobs for 24 hours, where it is easily picked up by any hands that touch the surface," says Dr. Phillips.

The Rx: Wash your hands with soap and water every time you use the bathroom, and read these essential tips to make sure you're doing it the right way.


Never Ignore Your Stress

looking at laptop feeling headache tired of study learning overwork

Everyone deals with stress differently. But when your stress gets out of control, you can feel it in your body—because stress makes your body release adrenaline. If it makes you feel any better, you're not alone. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, Americans are some of the most stressed-out people on Earth: More than half of us report being stressed "a lot of the day."

The Rx: If you're feeling stressed, it's time for a quick break. Take a deep breath, go for a walk, or watch a cute animal video. But don't ignore signs of something more serious—talk to your doctor if you really feel down or out of control.

RELATED: 50 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet


Never Stay in the Hot Tub Too Long

woman relaxing in the whirlpool bathtub

Soaking in a hot tub is one of the best ways to warm up in the wintertime—but for some, it can be dangerous. Pregnant women who use a hot tub are at twice the risk of miscarriage, and the risk goes up the more often they go in for a dip. You can also get Legionnaires Disease from inhaling bacteria in the steam of a contaminated tub.

The Rx: It's probably fine for people most people to relax in the hot tub—even people with treated hypertension are OK to soak for ten minutes or less.


Never Demand Antibiotics

Prescription pill bottle medicine

We get it. You want to stop feeling sick. But antibiotics aren't always the answer. They only kill bacteria, so treating a cold with antibiotics won't do anything to make you feel better.

"Most colds are caused by viruses, so antibiotics are not an effective treatment option," says Dr. Kelly Bay.

The Rx: There are effective ways to care for a cold at home—check out our expert tips. Of course, if things take a turn for the worse, give your doctor a call.


Never Get Stuck in a Crowd

woman got nose allergy, flu sneezing nose sitting at the chair in airport with laptop computer in her lap

It's wintertime, so for a lot of us, being inside is just part of the deal. It's hard to think about going outside when the weather isn't cooperating. Even so, try to avoid big crowds of people in confined spaces if you can help it. "Shopping malls, theaters and airports are always going to have lots of viruses and germs," says Dr. Michael Hall. "If you find you can't avoid being around a crowd, wash your hands regularly and try to avoid being around people that are coughing or sneezing."


Never Pass Up Garlic

garlic in bowl unpeeled

As it turns out, these pungent bulbs are good for more than just cooking meatloaf. Garlic has compounds that help the immune system fight germs. One small study showed the number of colds were cut almost in half by those who took a daily garlic supplement. "Garlic is a good expectorant to draw out mucus when you're sick," says Dr. Erica Steele.

Recommendation: Why not add a little garlic to your winter menu? Try one of our yummy (and healthy!) recipes.


Never Neglect Your Skin

Woman use hand cream on dry hand

The air tends to be dryer in the wintertime, and since you're cranking up the thermostat instead of opening windows, there's not as much natural moisture indoors. That means you're more likely to have dry skin. Exposure to frigid air can irritate your skin even more, especially on extremities like your hands and feet. If your skin starts to crack and bleed, it can lead to infections (not to mention, it really hurts).

The Rx: According to the Mayo Clinic, you should try to avoid taking long, hot showers and baths since that can dry out your skin even more. Use a thick moisturizer like Eucerin or Cetaphil to create a barrier on your skin to keep water from escaping. Avoid harsh soaps, and try a humidifier to add more vapor to the indoor air. If you see a lot of flaking or think you have a more serious condition, make an appointment to see your doctor.


Never Say No to H2O

winter clothes eagerly drinks water from a bottle

Drinking enough water is vital to your health—particularly in the winter months. That's because your body needs to be hydrated to function properly, and headaches can come on when you're dehydrated. "I find that rest and hydration are half the battle when I start feeling sick," says functional medicine nurse practitioner Cynthia Thurlow, NP. "A little extra rest combined with hydration helps kick your cold fast."

The Rx: Carry a refillable water bottle with you on the go. It's an easy way to stay hydrated when you're at work or just running errands. The Mayo Clinic recommends about 15.5 cups of water for men and 11.5 cups for women every day. If that seems too lofty a goal, don't let a number stop you—any amount of water is a good start.


Never Go Skiing Without Sunscreen

woman applying sunscreen on her face in snowy mountains in winter

It's finally snowing—the perfect day to hit the slopes. Don't forget to grab your sunscreen along with your skis. According to the CDC, skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. Just because it's not warm outside doesn't mean you aren't at risk. Snow reflects up to 80% of the sun's rays, so it's like getting hit with UV twice. And, UV exposure increases 4 to 5% with every 1,000 feet of elevation above sea level, so being on top of a mountain increases your risk of sun damage to your skin. 

The Rx: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to your face before you go outside. Reapply every two hours and after heavy sweating from a tough run. Don't forget your lips—use a balm with built-in sunblock. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 70 Things You Should Never Do For Your Health.