What's one thing that kids bring home from school more often than half-eaten lunches and fundraiser brochures? Colds. And though they may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of life's worries, all of those runny noses, coughs and sore throats add up to big headaches for the whole family. Here's how to keep your family healthy during cold and flu season.


1. Sleep! You've heard it before, but I'll say it again. You need a good night's rest — every night — if you want to keep your immune system in top form. When you sleep, your body releases infection-fighting proteins and histamines that heal illnesses and prevent the start of new ones.  


2. Drink. Water and tea that is. When you get dehydrated, tiny cracks form in your nasal passages that leave the body open to infection. So make sure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day. And tea not only warms you up from head to toe, it is also packed with antioxidants that help strengthen the immune system.


3. Exercise. Moderate exercise — such as taking a brisk walk for 20 minutes each day — boosts the circulation of white blood cells and produces antibodies that help attack cold germs before they can take hold.


4. Eat. Give your body the food and nutrients it needs to function at its peak. Fruits and vegetables boost your vitamin levels, protein builds lean muscle and healthy carbs provide the energy you need to stay healthy.


5. Smile. Some health experts recommended smiling as a means of staying healthy. The theory is that smiling helps to trigger the release of nutrients that boost the immune system and help ward off disease.  


6. Wash. No, you can't wash your hands 24 hours a day. But you can wash them before meals and after using the restroom to prevent the spread of germs. And you can clean high-traffic areas in your home such as light switches, doorknobs and the refrigerator handle frequently to keep the whole family healthy.


Related story on MNN: 10 flu-fighting foods [Photo gallery]


Keeping seasonal colds away
How to keep seasonal colds at bay. The best defense against cold and flu is a good offense. Here's how to keep the whole family healthy now that the kids are ba