As the calendar pages fall away and autumn creeps toward winter, we slog through the inevitable cold and flu season. You know those first, scratchy-throated signs that a cold has taken hold. And you know you're in for about a week's worth of unshakeable symptoms - a dry, sore throat, stuffed-up nose, and coughing and sneezing fits. Want to make sure to get in on all that fun? Here are some surefire ways to catch a cold:

  • Become a sneeze guard. Cold viruses get spread around by mucus and saliva flung out of the body by sneezes and coughs. Thus, if you really want to catch a cold, try standing downwind of someone who already has one.
  • Touch everything and never wash your hands. While most cold germs are airborne, many get passed around on our hands. Thoroughly washing your hands or using hand sanitizers will remove many of the germs, but cold viruses can lurk anywhere hands have touched: door knobs, toilet flushers, telephones, bus or subway poles, other people's cell phones, and shopping cart handles. The machines at the gym and the buttons on the ATM, too. So touch everything - especially your nose and mouth!
  • Stick your nose out. Temperatures drop and you bundle up in coats, scarves, and gloves, but your nose often gets left out in the cold. One catch-a-cold theory goes that when your nose is cold, you become less resistant to infection.
  • Walk barefoot in the cold. Your grandma may have warned you about "catching your death of cold" if you dared go out outside with a wet head in wintertime. Well, it seems your grandma may be at least partly right. You see, many of us carry cold viruses around with us all the time, but we just don't always show the symptoms. Researchers at Cardiff University in Wales suggest that when the feet are cold, blood vessels in the nose constrict. This then makes it tough for your nose to fight off the virus and cold symptoms kick into high gear. So it seems like we just "caught" a cold, but it had been there waiting for a chill all the time.
  • Hang out in the city. Cities are packed full of virus carriers - building ventilation systems, people walking or riding on buses and in cars, children going to and from school, and people crossing paths in hospitals, malls, and any number of other public gathering places.
  • Stress out. Want a cold? Worry! Get anxious! It's thought that tension can make you less resistant to infection.
  • Stop aging. With age comes wisdom, and this is true with your immune system, too. With every cold you battle, your immune system creates more and more antibodies and becomes smarter at handling new viruses that come along.
  • Be human. No wonder it's called the common cold: Over two hundred different viruses float around and infect us humans every year, causing those familiar, unpleasant symptoms. Adults suffer an average of 2 to 5 colds each year, while kids experience 7 to 10 sniffle-and-sneeze episodes.

In all seriousness, it is tough to fend off all of the viruses that create cold symptoms. But you can lower your risk by turning all of those tips on their head - well, except for those last two!

  • Cover your mouth when you sneeze and cough. Keep germs off of your hands by coughing and sneezing into the bend of your elbow. And, of course, stay out of the line of fire of other people's germs.
  • As much as you can, refrain from touching your nose, eyes, or mouth when in public. Wash your hands with soap and water often and for at least 15 to 30 seconds - it's the best way to remove germs you've picked up from touching things around you. Hand sanitizers will tide you over until you can get to a sink.
  • Learn to cope with stress in your life.
  • Bundle up when you head out into the cold, and don't forget your poor vulnerable nose!
  • Try to steer clear of crowded places during the high contagious season. Stay home from work or school if you're sick to prevent spreading the cold you've "successfully" caught.

Amy Toffelmire