Story image for health tips from Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Haven’t come down with the flu yet? You may be doing something right.

Surprisingly, winter colds and flu are to some extent avoidable: With the right combination of healthy habits and strategies, you can strengthen your immune system and keep thriving for the rest of the season.

These six tips will help you defend yourself against illness and feel your best.

• Dial down inflammation: Fighting chronic inflammation suppresses your immune system, making it tough to defend against germs. The main offenders behind inflammation are a high-sugar impact diet and the foods most likely to cause allergic reactions, like gluten, soy and dairy.

Be mindful of your sugar impact and include plenty of immune-boosters in your diet, including anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, coconut oil, and nutrient-packed foods.

• Take care of your gut: Your gut is home to 70 percent of your immune system and holds a community of trillions of microbes that play a key role in your immune function.

That’s why it’s critical to keep your gut healthy, so you have more good flora to fight off viruses and bacteria that can make you sick. Including foods with probiotics and prebiotics in your diet is a great way to build up the good guys in your gut microbiome. Think full-fat, unsweetened coconut, or Greek yogurt and fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut.

• Optimize your Vitamin D: Research suggests that not only can vitamin D help ward off illness, but it can also reduce the duration of an infection. That makes vitamin D vital to staying healthy.

Spending time outside in the sunshine is the best way to get vitamin D — 15 to 20 minutes of direct sun exposure is all it takes. It’s not just a coincidence that more people get sick in the winter when sunlight is scarce!

If you’re struggling to get the sun exposure you need, consider a high-quality vitamin D supplement, preferably one with vitamin K to boost absorption.

• Get high-quality sleep: You need seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep to trigger the production of immune cells that attack foreign invaders.

Subjects in one study who slept fewer than six hours a night were four times more likely to come down with a cold than those who got more sleep. Developing a healthy nighttime routine can go a long way.

• Get more antioxidants: If your gut instinct is to reach for vitamin C when you have a cold, there’s good reason: Antioxidants like vitamin C protect your immune cells.

Be sure to incorporate a variety of antioxidant-rich foods in your diet to lower your risk of infection. That includes yummy choices like dark chocolate, almonds, and berries.

• Get moving: Regular exercise triggers the production of immune cells that fight off cold and flu germs.

The best part is that you don’t have to live at the gym: Opt for a mix of burst and resistance training to get the greatest health benefits in the shortest amount of time.