Most of us spend more hours indoors during the winter months. Close quarters mean more exposure to germs that cause cold and flu. How can you reduce your chances of picking up bugs that lead to the sniffles, or worse? Nicole Pajer offers these ideas

Soothe yourself with music
In her Parade magazine article titled, Winter Cold and Cough Survival Kit, Pajer recommends listening to relaxing music like jazz to “…boost the immunoglobulin A levels found in secretions like tears and saliva.” Researchers have found that lower levels of immunoglobulin A or lgA put us at increased risk for infections spread through our mucous membranes. Soothing tunes help by increasing lgA and mood to help us ward off viral respiratory infection.

chocolate-567234_640Boost antioxidants
Did you need another good reason to savor a bite of dark chocolate? Tell yourself you’re doing it for the antioxidant boost. According to the Chemistry Central Journal, dark chocolate has more antioxidants that most fruit juices. For best benefit, reach for bars with at least 70% cacao and without refined sugar, soy lecithin or dairy, advises registered dietitian Stephanie Wages. Antioxidants boost your immune systems making you less vulnerable to bugs.

You probably know that winter weather means dry skin, but did you also know that nasal passages get dry as well? When your nose is dry it provides less defense against toxins and viruses in the air says Darshan Shah, M.D. Moisturize nasal passages with an over the counter saline spray so mucous membranes can do a better job of helping you stay well.

Reduce stress
Consider developing a regular meditation practice. A University of Wisconsin study found that an 8-week mindfulness meditation course helped participants boost antibodies that protect the body from bacteria and viruses. You don’t need any special equipment or hours a day. Just start by taking 5 minutes a day to focus on your breath or another object, such as sounds or a mantra. Gently return your attention to the object when your mind wanders. Think you’re too busy to meditate? You can also try focusing on your object for 15 to 20 seconds each time you wash your hands or climb a flight of stairs.

Laugh out loud
Laughter lowers cortisol, the stress hormone. So go ahead and Google funny cat videos or cue up your favorite comedy. When you turn down the cortisol you turn up neurotransmitters that help you keep colds at bay.

Try a probiotic
Erica Lehman, M.D., recommends a product with at least three different strains and a minimum of 5 billion colony-forming units. Probiotics support gut health and are a great defense during flu season.

Shake your groove thing
Dancing gives your lymphatic system a boost. Don’t worry if you have two left feet. The key is to get moving. Dance like no one is watching or try another form of cardio to get your heart pumping. You’ll give your immune system a charge and burn a few calories while you’re at it.

Of course, the regular rules still apply. Be sure you get adequate rest and give some attention to your diet. Choose foods that support your body and stay hydrated. Wash your hands regularly and be sure to dry them thoroughly, too. Wet hands are more likely to pick up and transport germs. Here’s to a cold and flu free season!