6 ways to avoid getting sick this cold and flu season

Tis the season for sniffles and coughs. While most Americans will catch two to three common colds each winter, according to the Mayo Clinic, there are ways that you can minimize your risks. And, no, staying home until spring doesn't have to be one of them. Here are six ways to still enjoy the winter months and keep the cold viruses at bay.

1. Clip hand sanitizer to your handbag. It's true, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends soap and water above other methods of keeping your hands clean. That's because hand sanitizer won't do much against the nastiest stomach bugs, like norovirus. But a squirt of sanitizer is just as effective as soap when it comes to slaying the viruses that cause a common cold. So when you can't get to a sink, reach for an alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead. You'll want to make sure the formula is at least 60 percent alcohol to be truly effective. Most brands sell one-ounce bottles that clip to your key ring or purse handle, so you'll always have it within easy reach.

2. Reach out to a friend. You might think that avoiding people during cold and flu season is the best way to stay healthy, but that habit will most likely just make you miserable. In fact, researchers have found that people with a lot of different types of social groups were better at fighting off cold viruses than people with fewer types of friends. Researchers aren't exactly sure why being social makes you a better bug-killer, but it could be because an upbeat attitude and sense of community have protective qualities that actually boost your immune system. So, winter may in fact be the best time to join the book club you've been eyeing or reach out to an acquaintance for coffee.

"Do your health a favor and keep your bedtime steady."

3. Make sleep a priority. Your calendar may be filled this time of year with holiday get-togethers and shopping errands, but don't give your shut eye short shrift. When you're run down, your body has a harder time fighting off invading pathogens, which means if you start cutting back on sleep now you're more likely to be sniffling and sneezing your way through the new year {only capped when you're referring to the holiday}. Researchers have found that people who sleep less than six hours a night are significantly more likely to catch a cold as people who get a good night's sleep. So, as tempting as it may be to finish that holiday movie marathon or gift-wrapping sprint, do your health a favor and keep your bedtime steady.

4. Go for a walk outside. Stretching your legs in the fresh air is like a one-two punch in your fight against the common cold. Part of the reason that you're more likely to catch a cold in the winter is you spend so much time in closed quarters, with the windows closed and the heat cranked high. That air can dry out your sinuses, making you more susceptible to viruses. Getting outside for even a short time can restore that protective layer. At the same time, moderate activity, like a short walk, has been shown to increase your odds of fighting off a cold by as much as 300 percent. Too cold to get outside? Stay active indoors, with exercises like swimming, dancing or aerobics.

5. Save that big trip for the summer. People who travel by airplane report more colds than those who stay on the ground during the winter months. Medical experts think there are two culprits to blame: the closed air circulation on a plane means all those airborne ickies don't have anywhere to go, so you're more likely to contract something, and flying at high altitudes can cause you to get dehydrated more quickly, making you more vulnerable to pathogens. Of course, visiting your family during the holidays can more than outweigh the risks of catching a cold. But if you're going to fly by plane this cold and flu season, do what you can to minimize your risk. Stay hydrated before and during your flight, wipe down your arm rests and tray table with a disinfectant wipe and avoid any fellow travelers who look visibly sniffly.

"Garlic's antimicrobial properties may help quash a cold quickly."

6. Eat the rainbow. Candy canes and ruggelah may be how you ring in the season, but make sure you're still maintaining a healthy diet most days to keep your immune system humming and in top bug-fighting form. That means having no more than a glass or two of wine most days and trying to squeeze in five servings of vegetables and fruit (and fruit cake doesn't count!). For centuries, some cultures have relied on garlic's antimicrobial properties to quash a cold quickly. And they may be on to something: one study found that participants who popped a garlic supplement during the winter months got fewer colds than those who took a placebo.