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How can I help protect my family from catching colds?

        Health | Cold & Flu

Keep Your Immune System Strong

In addition to keeping your hands and the surfaces around your home clean, keeping your immune system strong can also help lower your chances of catching a cold this season. If you're not taking care of yourself, listen up: Without a well-balanced diet, daily exercise and a good night's sleep, you're inviting viruses and bacteria to colonize your body.

The body's immune system is always on alert. It's a well-oiled machine and keeps most bad things at bay. It's not perfect, though, and your body can't keep up with the seasonal onslaught of cold viruses if it's run down.

To help keep colds from getting by your immune defenses, eat well-balanced meals that are low in fat and high in antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, as well as selenium and beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Don't rely on vitamin supplements, although in some instances they can help you meet your daily requirement -- there really is no substitute for good nutrition.

While eating healthy foods is essential to keeping your immune system strong, it's also important to be active and to get plenty of sleep. We know that regular exercise -- 30 minutes a day -- can decrease our risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But what you might not know is that it can also help reduce the number of colds you and your family get this season and make the symptoms of the colds you may come down with less severe.

In a recent study published in the "British Journal of Sports Medicine," researchers found that people who did aerobic exercise at least five days a week had fewer colds than people who exercised only one day a week or not at all. Aerobic exercise improves how our immune system functions, and the better it's functioning, the better able it is to fight off colds and flu.

Similarly, getting plenty of sleep every night is important for every member of the family. How much sleep we need is determined by our age, though naturally it varies from person to person. School-aged kids should get about 10 to 11 hours every night, and teens need between 8.5 and 9.25 hours each night. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every night to stay physically and mentally sharp, and that includes fighting off colds. According to a study published in the "Archives of Internal Medicine," adults who don't regularly get at least seven hours of quality sleep increase their risk of catching colds and the flu.