Formula for common cold prevention

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In the US, the annual cost of common cold is $40 billion per year and this accounts for 40% of all work lost. My own productivity was also severely affected by infections decades ago, and this made me come up with a formula for common cold prevention. This formula worked magic for me. Perhaps my formula will inspire your own ways of cutting down on costs of infection.

Origins of the formula

I am a productivity freak. I analyze and re-analyze productivity to identify weak spots. As early as 3 decades ago I identified colds and influenza as the worst offenders in lost productivity in my case. Today, I can say that I have managed to eliminate the problem almost entirely. Even though my work focuses on sleep and memory, the success of my "immunity workout" effort became remarkable enough to necessitate a short text in which I should share my experience with others. I hold a degree in biology, which might have helped in designing a prevention program.

I charted my own infections from the year 1980. My worst year was 1995. In 1995, I had two major SuperMemo projects on my head, and also worked over my PhD. This was a year of stress and chaos. Naturally that resulted in reduced immunity. That single year, I had 7 cases of cold that resulted in 31 days of reduced productivity. The fact that I did not bother to take breaks from work must have had its contribution as well.

In the year 2000, there was a major drop in infections and the problem of lost productivity disappeared entirely by 2003. There are only 3 factors that could have produced those dramatic shifts. In the year 1999, I dropped all forms of sleep regulation, esp. the alarm clock. In the year 2003, I added weekly winter swimming and weekly half-marathon in the woods. No other solid explanations come to my mind.

If you ever hear a myth that innate immunity cannot be boosted because it is innate, review my case again. I would have somehow had to magically complete my adaptive immunity development some 15 years ago.

The anti-flu formula

Total freedom from infections is not possible, but a strong immune system will help fight all forms of infection and even act in prevention of other diseases, incl. cancer.

My formula for a clean bill of health:

  • winter swimming every single week, no exceptions
  • half marathon in the woods every single week, no exceptions
  • free running sleep, no exceptions
  • avoiding exposure to people with fully blown symptoms of infection
  • maximizing exposure to natural environment (outdoor sports, 1-3 hours daily, no exceptions)
  • healthy diet and lifestyle
  • stress management (I love my work)

Other things that I do and other people tend not to do:

  • solid rehydration. I am still amazed that people with significant interest in health do not know the value of profuse rehydration
  • large daily dose of fresh vegetables
  • sleeping with opened windows independent of the weather. The temperature in my room can drop down to 10 degrees Celsius on the coldest days of winter
  • no use of home heating (also for ecological reasons)

Other possibly contributing factors that have been introduced later:

  • living life barefoot on a paved floor all day long, no exceptions (recently, my feet experienced no discomfort of footwear for over two months)
  • exclusive use of shorts outdoors independent of the weather, all year long, no exceptions
  • in winter swimming, I never miss full immersion of the head, which seems vital for clearing up the mucosa

Literature on winter swimming is rich. It goes beyond the scope of this article. It all revolves around thermogenesis, mucosal protection, and the innate immune system. In summer, I try to swim outdoors daily, but it is that winter season that seems most important. It is possible that my sleep and work with open windows in low temperatures has as significant contribution as well. As I use no heating, I close windows only when the use of keyboard becomes difficult due to low temperatures.

Sleep is essential for immunity. I write more about the power of free running sleep here.

No innate immunity can prevent an infection in exposure to a large dose of a novel pathogen. Visiting a friend with a fully blown flu is a bad idea. I never do it.

I love the woods. I love jogging in rain. Woods in the rain provide a nice natural low-dose exposure to a nice deal of bugs that keep your innate immune system busy. This is my immune system workout.

I introduced my system in stages. I have totally freed my sleep in 1999, but it was not a hermetic formula against infections. Only in 2003, I have introduced a strict regimen with one half-marathon per week and one winter swimming session per week. I have kept it since. It is costly in terms of time, but it seems to pay back nicely in terms of health and productivity.

Winter swimming alone does not seem to be a solution either. I tried it many times in the 1980s and in the 1990s, but the missing ingredient must have been my limited respect for sleep (e.g. frequent all nighters during my college years).

Success rate

I realize that my system is very hard to implement. For most people, it is impossible to implement for time constraints. However, I needed to describe it as inspiration. Half-implementation is better than no implementation. It also attests to the power of workouts for the innate immune system. It is a proof that we can do a lot to boost our immunity. Immune system workout is not a myth!

None of my friends inspired by my program could entirely escape infections. In each case, I could identify main culprits as:

  • high stress
  • insufficient sleep
  • insufficient prevention (e.g. when in contact with infected people)

As in other walks of life, self-discipline seems vital. Nobody in my group of friends seemed to have been able to reproduce my weekly regimen of winter swimming and half-marathons. It is hard for a season, let alone for a decade. However, winter swimmers regularly claim increased immunity (some claim to have not suffered any respiratory infections for decades). In winter swimming community, the prevention of infections is one of the main reasons people continue the habit of getting exposed to cold water in winters.


It is possible to avoid infections for decades in otherwise vulnerable individuals

Here are the most important things to remember:

  • good sleep is essential for immunity
  • alarm clocks destroy the quality of sleep
  • cold exposure is great for preventing colds
  • winter swimming is one of the most effective forms of cold exposure
  • moderate exercise helps prevent infections
  • stress management is essential for immunity
  • profuse rehydration helps combat infections
  • healthy diet and lifestyle help combat infections
  • minor exposure to natural allergens and pathogens might be helpful (e.g. walk in a park on a rainy day)
  • it is important to avoid heavy exposure to viruses during flu epidemics