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Dodge those winter-health woes!

Simple steps can stave off a season of cold and flu

(CNN) -- Winter doesn't have to mean sniffling and sneezing. With a little prevention and effort, winter-time health won't be left out in the cold. More than 150 million cases of respiratory illnesses -- flu, colds and the like -- are reported each year in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Steps can h

The most effective way of preventing sickness is also the most simple, and is no farther away than the kitchen or bathroom sink.

"The single most important thing you can do in the winter time and all year long is probably hand-washing," said Paul Lyons, a family physician with the Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "Because that's one of the most common ways for spreading germs from one individual to another: skin-to-skin contact."

A healthy diet, including the recommended doses of vitamin C, will also battle the season's sicknesses. Lyons advises getting the daily requirements through foods such as citrus fruits and through dietary supplements.

Echinacea and zinc lozenges, which studies show have had mixed results, work for some people,.

And just when you thought you could breathe a little easier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that indoor heating can dry out sinuses, making them more vulnerable to cold viruses that love low humidity. But there are solutions.

"You can buy commercial humidifiers which can be helpful as long as you're careful about changing the water regularly," Lyons said. "Or as a low-tech alternative, it's possible to place open bowl of water over a radiator or in front of the intake vet of your heater/ac unit inside your home. (make sure you change the water regularly)"

Keeping an exercise routine, even when the weather is uncooperative, is also key to warding off winter woes because exercise boosts the immune system. But if you have a chest cold, stay away from the weights and exercise machinery until it passes.
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