Once temperatures drop and snow hits the ground, germs thrive. Many neglect common healthy practices. Following simple healthy habits could give you a sickness-free season.

A primary defense against colds and flu include soap and water. “The number one spread of pathogens is in hands,” says Josh Cluff, Chief Nursing Officer at Grover C. Dils Medical Center (GCD).

GCD’s Chief Operating Officer, Missie Rowe, advises to “teach your children young” to wash hands often. We wipe our nose with the backs of our hands, we shake hands with comrades, we purchase goods with money that millions of other hands handle. You could literally say, “it’s all in the hands.”

Those that used to get sick year-after-year, with the common cold or other ‘bugs’ that go around town, reported being sick less after adopting daily hand washing.

Another simple, but effective, health habit is consistent dental cleanings and checkups. Local dentist Dr. Stephen Klomp says, “45 to 50 percent of the population have periodontal disease and don’t know it.”

What is periodontal disease? It is well-known that brushing teeth daily helps keep teeth healthy. But plaque is virtually impossible to completely remove by brushing alone. When plaque stays on teeth, it makes calcium that hardens. The calcium is porous and allows room for bacteria. Bacteria waste then goes into your gums. Slowly, the gums begin to recede, and the bacteria move down with them. A normal tooth should have two-thirds of the roots buried, and one-third of the tooth exposed. Those with periodontal disease end up with the opposite.

Another important health habit is daily exercise. Walker and runner footprints tend not to be found during winter. But keeping up a daily regimen of exercise is vital to one’s health and even more important as we age.

As the years pile on, our bones degenerate and release minerals into the blood. It’s important to consume vitamins and minerals to maintain bone health.

Certain foods provide more nutrition than others. Dark green, leafy vegetables provide a ton of vitamin A, but iceberg lettuce has virtually no health benefits. WebMD offers a list of the top ten most popular green leaf vegetables eaten in the United States, and ranks them most nutritious to least. Top on the list is kale, an excellent source of A, C and K vitamins, along with calcium, folate and potassium. Other healthy choices include collards, turnips, Swiss chard and spinach.

With holiday meals coming up, it’s a great time to practice healthy eating for the masses. Did you know that sweet potatoes have a higher nutritional value than regular potatoes? Sweet potatoes are packed with 400 percent of the daily vitamin A recommendation. Regular potatoes are healthy too, but sweet potatoes carry more vitamin C and fiber, along with fewer calories and fewer total carbs, in spite of more sugar. So, even though you might serve them smothered in marshmallows during the holidays, try serving them without the sweet boost throughout the year.

“You don’t have to go crazy eating healthy,” Klomp says. A healthy eating lifestyle keeps in mind moderation.

Finally, those who get a flu vaccine each year greatly reduce their risk of getting influenza. Not only is the flu zero fun, but it can also be dangerous.

“Worldwide, it is estimated that up to 500,000 people per year die from influenza,” according to local pharmacist Adam Katschke. The Center for Disease Control reports that “more than 200,000 people [in the U.S.] are hospitalized from the flu, including an average of 20,000 children younger than five years of age.”

It is especially important for high-risk groups to get a flu shot. This includes pregnant women, young children and the elderly.

Local health professionals encourage staying active and using common sense standards in eating and maintaining your health. Doing so can mean less sniffles and fevers this winter and beyond. After all, we only get one body.

This article was originally published in Lincoln County Magazine. Visit a local store to pick up your copy.