If you’re desperate to keep yourself and your family healthy this winter, don’t just chug extra vitamins and rely on chicken soup every night – add some exercise into your weekly routine too.

In fact, studies have shown that people who exercise regularly decrease their chances of catching a cold by almost half. If you are unlucky and catch a cold despite the exercise there’s still good news, because regular exercisers also benefit from less severe symptoms when they do get ill. Why is this?

Of course, exercise can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure and keep your heart healthy, which means that your body generally has less ‘work’ to do in terms of looking after itself when you start to get a bit run down or stressed. On top of that though, exercising regularly helps to boost your immune system in general, even if you were already fairly healthy.  When you’re walking, jogging or doing other moderate exercise, immune cells circulate more quickly than usual and can fight off bacteria and viruses more effectively. They return to normal a few hours after you’re finished exercising but research seems to suggest that if you do moderate exercise consistently and for a long period, these changes are more permanent. Plus, the endorphins that exercise produces help you to feel good, which can help you fight illness as well.

So while you’re stocking up on those cold and flu meds, why not sign up for a gym membership while you’re at it?