Can Playing Outside in Cold Weather Make Our Kids Sick?

Can Playing Outside in Cold Weather Make Our Kids Sick?

How many of you remember your mom saying, "Bundle up or you'll catch a cold!" I certainly do. And I say the same thing to my kids! But is there any scientific evidence that supports this old wive’s tale?

Yes, there is! At least it’s partially true.

Viruses are microorganisms that you must have contact with to become sick, so you CANNOT become sick by going outside or being cold. However, scientific studies suggest that the cold, dry weather typical of winter months can make us more susceptible to getting sick if we are exposed to a virus.

A recent study found that cold temperatures can affect our likelihood of getting sick by weakening an immune response (Foxman et al., 2015). Another study found that cold temperatures and dry air can increase the spread of the flu virus (Lowen et al., 2007). And a study based on 20,000 people showed that the flu season in a temperate climate was kicked off every year by a drop in temperature (Sundell et al., 2016). Science is showing us that there is a relationship between weather conditions, seasonality, the transmission of diseases, and our immune response; although some of the mechanisms of these relationships are still unclear.

 Photo Credit: Fred Westerberg

Photo Credit: Fred Westerberg

Everyday Takeaways from Science

·      Simply being outside in the cold, dry winter air will not give you the flu or a cold.

·      Cold temperatures can weaken your immune system making it more likely that you’ll get sick if you pick up a virus.

·      Dry air helps viruses spread more easily (this applies to indoor and outdoor air).

·      The science is still unclear about specific weather conditions and the spread of illnesses, but bundling up before going outside, as your mother suggested, is great advice!

Should My Kids Play Outside this Winter?

If your child is healthy and feeling anxious because they’ve been cooped-up indoors for months, consider taking them outside to expend excess energy. Just be sure to dress them properly so they stay warm and dry. If your child is sick, has a pre-existing condition that makes them susceptible to getting sick, or has been exposed to sick kids, then you may want to limit outdoor activity. Always check with your pediatrician! I am not a medical doctor and am not providing you with medical advice.

How Do We Stay Healthy?

There is no guaranteed strategy for staying healthy, but there are steps you can take to decrease your chance of getting sick. Here is a quick cheat sheet! For more information, visit the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) Website.

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Get vaccinated.
  • Cover your cough.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Stay active.
  • Avoid sick people and stay home if you're sick.
  • When outside, dress in layers to stay warm and dry.


Thanks for reading,

Dr. Jenny



Foxman, E.F., Storera, J.A., Fitzgeraldc, M.E., Wasike, B.R., Houf, L., Zhaof, H., Turnere, P.E., Pylec, A.M., & Iwasakia, A. (2015). Temperature-dependent innate defense against the common cold virus limits viral replication at warm temperature in mouse airway cells. PNAS. 112(3): 827-832.

Lowen, A.C., Mubareka, S., Steel, J., Palese, P. (2007). Influenza Virus Transmission Is Dependent on Relative Humidity and Temperature. PLoS Pathogens. 3(10):1470-1476.

Sundell, N., Andersson, L-M., Brittain-Long, R. Lindh, M., Weston, J. (2016). A four year seasonal survey of the relationship between outdoor climate and epidemiology of viral respiratory tract infections in a temperate climate. Journal of Clinical Virology. 84:59-63.

*Thumb Nail Photo Credit: Fred Westerberg









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