How to Stay Healthy This Winter Part I

I hope your 2014 is starting out on a lovely note!  Every season of the year asks us to shift our lifestyle habits to match the weather.  This two part series of tips should get you in good shape for the rest of winter.

Chinese medicine is all about living with the rhythms of nature.  We can follow the seasons and live our lives accordingly for maximum health.  We encounter problems when we go against these earthly cycles.

The majority of the animal kingdom hibernates during wintertime.  It is a period of restoration, quiet and inactivity in preparation for the giant burst that is spring.  What do we humans do instead?  We race around frantically looking for “perfect gifts”, we travel, we attend tons of holiday parties, we amp up our workouts to combat holiday weight gain, we stress, we push, and….we get sick.

 These tips can help you work with the environment to encourage harmony and balance within the body.  This season’s main goals are to replenish our reserves and conserve our Qi.  Winter began with the solstice on December 21st-the longest night and the shortest day of the year.

1. At the first sign of a cold or flu, rest and see your acupuncturist

Try not to “push through” your illness or use antibiotics as a quick fix.  Illness is our body’s way of telling us to slow down and take care of ourselves.  Acupuncture and herbs can stop a cold in its tracks, ease your symptoms and lessen the duration of an existing illness.  If you do decide to take antibiotics, acupuncture and herbs can work alongside Western treatments to compliment them.

2.  Eat warm, cooked foods

Just say no to salads and other raw foods throughout winter.  It’s cold outside and your diet should reflect this to stay in harmony with the season.  The foods to eat now are ones that naturally grow during this time of year or have been harvested and dried during autumn such as root vegetables, squashes, winter greens, mushrooms, beans and lentils.  Your body wants and needs to stay WARM.  Cooking methods should reflect this-bake, roast, braise, stew and slow cook to introduce more heat into your meals.  Reach for broths and stews, rich meats, and add more ginger and cinnamon to your meals.  As always, organic, local and unprocessed products are most nutritious.

Here are some suggestions for ingredients to add to your winter meals:

Grass Fed Beef, Black Beans, Black Mushrooms, Black sesame seeds and oil, Black soybeans, Bone marrow, Cabbages, Celery, Chard, Chestnuts, Cranberries, Dark leafy greens, Duck, Eggs, Ginger, Goose, Kale, Kidney beans, Kohlrabi, Lamb, Leeks, Lotus seed, Miso, Mulberry, Mutton, Ocean Perch, Parsley, Pine nuts, Rutabaga, Seaweed, Shrimp/Prawns, Soy Sauce, String beans, Turnips, Walnuts, Wood ear mushrooms.

3.  Get extra sleep

This is such an active, social season for most people that we tend to get less sleep during a time when we need it the most.  The Tao suggests that we go to bed with the moon and rise with the sun.  While it is unrealistic for us to crawl into bed at 5pm, I’m sure many of us would like to!  Where possible, try to add an extra hour to your sleep routine.  Cut out the extra hour of TV or internet surfing to add rest into your schedule.  We really notice how much sleep we actually need when we finally get that much needed good night’s rest.  Getting up earlier also allows us the chance to absorb more of the sun’s warming energy and Vitamin D!

4.  Wash your hands

This is the number one way to prevent spread of viruses and bacteria.  Wash your hands as soon as you get home, get to work, basically before and after EVERYTHING.  Anti-bacterial hand soaps and sanitizers reduce your skin’s ability to kill germs on its own.  They effectively apply a layer of sticky gel on top of the germs on your hands.  They are a last resort if you are unable to wash your hands but I do advise against them.

5.  Support your adrenal system

The stress from the post holiday season can be exhausting.  Stress triggers our sympathetic nervous system or our “fight or flight” response.  These days this reaction is elicited by an overwhelming line at Whole Foods rather than the need to out run a tiger.  Our body’s adrenal system (the Kidneys) still interprets our stress in the same way, no matter what the cause.  Adrenal overload leads to adrenal exhaustion and a very burnt out person.  You can combat this by cutting down as much as you can on coffee, sugar and other stimulants.