The holidays are just around the corner, and for many parents, all they want for Christmas is for the cold and flu bugs to stay away.

The Horizon Public Health team, which serves Douglas, Grant, Pope, Stevens and Traverse counties, recommends the following best practices to keep families healthy throughout this season of gathering:

Eat healthy and stay active. Eat a balanced diet, including fruits and vegetables, and exercise. Being physically active boosts your immune system, which helps in combating illness.

Wash your hands often. Cold viruses tend to spread most through hand-to-mouth contact, so wash your hands often, especially after visiting highly trafficked areas such as malls and schools. Be aware of what you touch, and avoid touching your face, mouth, nose and eyes without washing first.

Stay hydrated. When your body becomes dehydrated, your immune system gets run down, so drink at least eight glasses of water each day. Avoid soft drinks, and limit tea and coffee. Water is always best.

Rest up. Studies show people who sleep at least eight hours a night are about three times less likely to catch a cold than those who sleep seven hours or less. So don't let the holiday hustle and bustle keep you up too late.

Get regular medical checkups. To help families stay healthy year-round, Horizon Public Health's Child and Teen Checkups program offers free checkups and flu vaccinations to individuals age 20 or younger, who are enrolled in a Minnesota health care plan, or receive insurance coverage through Medical Assistance/PrimeWest. To schedule a checkup with Horizon Public Health, call 1-800-450-4177, or contact a local clinic.