It’s cold and flu season. Feeling a little under siege? When everyone around you is coughing and sneezing, do you feel the urge to hide inside with your family and pull up the drawbridge?

Well, there are better ways to stay healthy through the winter and into spring.

Here are my top suggestions:

1. Eat well & exercise regularly. These are good ideas year-round, of course, but especially important when you need your immune system to be operating at top efficiency. Make sure you’re getting lots of fresh fruit and veggies—a challenge if you’ve got picky eaters (and trust me, I feel your pain on that) so here’s some help in that department. As for exercise, a strong, healthy bod is much less likely to go under when it encounters a virus. A combo of cardio, strength training, and stretching is best.

2. Take probiotics. You probably know probiotics are good for your gut, but now research is showing that probiotics may actually protect against coughs and colds. In one study, children in daycare who were given daily probiotic supplements had fewer fevers, coughing episodes, and nasal congestion. I usually recommend yogurt as the best source of probiotics but supplements will do the trick, too.

3. Take Vitamin C. I know this sounds kind of old-school in the face of all the fancy-shmancy new things lining the shelves at vitamin stores, but it just flat works. Most kids aren’t fab in the fruit/veggie department, so a little supplemental Vitamin C is a good idea.

4. Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water. A dehydrated body leads to dried-out mucus membranes in your nose and mouth...and those mucus membranes are a primary defence against all the viruses out there. You want a nice plump, moist barrier in your nose and mouth, the better to stop those germs in their tracks. Also, if the air in your home is dry (as heated homes in winter often are), use a humidifier.

5. Wash your hands. I see a lot of sick people every day. And, yes, I get sick too, but not nearly as often as you might think. People always ask me my secret, and it’s simple: I wash my hands. A LOT. Wash your hands with soap and warm water—or use a hand sanitizer if a sink isn’t available. Get your kids into this habit, too.

6. Don’t touch your face. This is my other secret. It can be a tough habit to break, but be super-careful about touching your face (which introduces germs on your hands into your nose/eyes/mouth). Also? No biting or chewing your nails. Besides wrecking your mani, gnawing on those fingernails is an excellent way of popping viruses into your mouth. And I know you don’t want that.

7. Be wary of public surfaces. I don’t want to make you paranoid, and I don’t mean to trigger anyone’s OCD, but...germs are everywhere. And, depending on the circumstances, some viruses can stay alive for hours, even days. Among the filthiest: ATM buttons, doorknobs, gas-pump handles, and money. In many instances, it will be impossible to avoid these surfaces, so...um, please refer to #5 and #6, above.

8. Get a flu shot. Nobody likes a needle, but the flu shot really does make a difference. Influenza is a much worse virus than a regular cold virus (which the flu shot doesn’t protect against anyway). If you or your kids have suffered through the stuck-in-bed-because-you’re-positively-dying scourge of influenza, you know what I’m talking about. Rolling up your sleeve is a cakewalk compared to that. Of course, the flu shot is not a guarantee, but a big weapon in your defence.

9. Bundle up when you go outside. Personally, I love it when “old wives’ tales” turn out to have a basis of truth to them. Although western medicine has been scoffing at this one for decades, a recent study at the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff, Wales showed that, indeed, catching a chill can increase your chances of contracting a cold. Vindicating mothers and grandmothers everywhere. The theory: cold temperatures cause nasal blood vessels to constrict, inhibiting the immune response in your nose, where cold viruses typically first attack.

10. Get lots of sleep. Again, this one is directed toward the idea of having a healthy immune system firing on all pistons. A sleep-deprived body is more vulnerable to infection. Need help improving your sleep? Read this.

11. Don’t share. I know, it’s not very Sesame Street of me. As moms, we’re usually all share your toys, sweetie...but when it comes to drinks, straws, utensils, lip balm? Not a good idea. Even if somebody seems healthy enough, there’s a little thing called: incubation period. Most experts agree that a person starts becoming contagious about one day before their symptoms start. So you do the math on that.  

12. Take Zinc. If all else fails and you start developing symptoms of a cold or flu (typically that telltale sore throat) here’s what you need to do: get yourself some zinc lozenges and start sucking. There’s evidence that taken within the first 24 hours of a cold’s onset, zinc can decrease the duration and severity of your illness. And it will help your kids, too—much of the research on zinc and colds has been done on children. Zinc may also be more than a last-ditch effort. In studies, children receiving preventive supplements for at least 5 months had fewer colds and fewer absentee days from school.

Cold and flu season? Bring it on!