The more you are able to align yourself with nature, the greater health you will experience. If you watch and pay attention, you will notice that winter is a time of rest, inward retreat and reflection—a time of quietness and restoration. Heed the season’s suggestion and you will emerge in the spring, like a crocus, with vibrance, health and energy. Here are 6 ways to align yourself with the winter season and keep you and your family healthy:
Increase Your Vitamin D Intake
You get vitamin D from some foods and from exposing your skin to the sun which causes your body to manufacture vitamin D. As the days shorten and the weather gets colder your body will make less of this sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D is an important part of a healthy immune system. Low levels have been linked to frequent colds and flus, cancers, osteoporosis, joint pain, depression and even heart disease. Low fish diets, northern winter climates and the overuse of sunscreens can lead to vitamin D deficiency. Current daily nutritional need for vitamin D is set to 600 IU, for adults, however many suggest 1,000 to 2,000 IU may be optimal.
As the days get shorter and the sun is lower in the sky, it becomes difficult, if not nearly impossible, to make vitamin D from the sun. During this time, dietary sources of vitamin D become increasingly important. Whenever possible eat natural dietary sources of vitamin D rather than processed foods enriched with the vitamin. Cod liver oil and fish such as wild salmon, wild sardines and wild tuna are excellent natural sources of vitamin D as well as healthy Omega-3 oils for heart, brain and immune system health. Just a 1/2 filet of wild salmon provides 1400 IU of vitamin D. Six raw oysters provide 269 IU and one can of sardines provides 250 IU of vitamin D. Eggs and mushrooms such as maitake, chanterelle, morel, shiitake and oysters provide vitamin D ranging from 121 IU for just one maitake mushroom to 31 IU for a single shiitake mushroom and 44 IU for one egg. So head out for some oysters on the half shell, grill up some wild salmon, try a sardine salad or sandwich and add the rich flavors of mushrooms or eggs to your breakfasts, soups, stir fries and stews this winter. As your vitamin D levels rise you will feel yourself getting happier and healthier.
Drink More Water
The winter season is associated with the water element and the Kidneys. Taking care of your Kidneys during the winter is of utmost importance for your health during this season and for preventing illness during the spring season that will follow. Your body needs water for removing wastes products, lubricating your joints, skin and mucus membranes and for running all of your metabolic and physiologic processes. Most people do not even drink the bare minimum of 64 oz of water each day and as a result are suffering from water retention, weight gain, kidney stones, headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue and dry skin. (By the way we are talking about pure water here. The water in your tea, coffee and soda does not count toward the 64 oz minimum! In fact these beverages are actually dehydrating you rather than hydrating you.) As the dry cold wintery air settles in and your heat is working full-time, you need more water than ever to keep your body functioning properly and your skin and mucus membranes moist enough to do their germ blocking job. Your skin and mucus membranes are the first immune barrier to colds and flus and they need to be moist and intact to do their job well. In addition to drinking plenty of water, getting a humidifier for your home and eating healthy fats, like those found in fish, eggs, coconut and avocados can also help keep the ill effects of dry wintery air and its colds and flus at bay.
Get More Sleep
Lack of sleep has been linked to a weakened immune system and health problems such as increased susceptibility to autoimmune disease, infection and heart disease. Your body’s need for sufficient and proper rest increases in the winter time. If you do not heed the seasonal demand for increased “hibernation” your adrenals and immune system will become depleted during this season and you may find yourself battling colds, flus, allergies or worse this winter and during the spring season which follows. Our current society of high stress and overwork drastically depletes our Kidney system, leading to anxiety, depression, adrenal exhaustion, infertility and year round allergies. Remember winter is associated with the Kidneys, so it is important to pay special attention to this organ during the winter season. How do you do this? Go to bed early—no later than 10 pm! If you regularly have trouble sleeping and are getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night, then it is time to do something about this! Turn off the computer and TV and try stretching or meditating for 30 minutes before going to bed. I also like Traditional Medicinals “Organic Nighty Night” or “Organic Easy Now” teas for a gentle way to help unwind before bed (hint: go ahead and double up on the tea bags for a more therapeutic herbal dose). Also keep in mind that eating too much in the late evening or drinking alcohol or caffeine will disrupt your sleep so use moderation. If you still need extra help sleeping, remember that acupuncture induces a relaxation response, reverses the negative effects of stress and may help you start sleeping better almost immediately.
Eat Homemade Soups and Stews
Homemade beef and chicken bone broths have luckily regained popularity with recent interest in the Paleo diet. However Chinese Medicine has been advocating for the health benefits of soups and stews for thousands of years. Homemade bone broths are packed with superb flavor and restorative health effects. In general, it is best to eat mainly cooked foods because they are more gentle on your digestive system, leading to easier digestion and better absorption of nutrients and overall health. It turns out that western science has now confirmed that your gut is responsible for 60-80 percent of your immune system! Eating homemade soups and stews is one of the best ways to repair and care for your digestive system and your overall health. The immune boosting effects of your basic chicken soup can even be enhanced with the addition of herbs, such as huang qi, as found in our Immune Boosting Chicken Broth. If you are looking for one pot meals packed with nutrition and preventative health benefits, homemade soups and stews are the way to go this winter! Be sure to ditch the prepackaged broths or boullions and make your own. Afraid to make your own chicken broth? Do not fear! Follow our Chicken Broth recipe and we will walk you through each step of the process.
Stress weakens your immune system and makes your body more susceptible to a whole host of illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, depression, autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, infections, colds and flus. The science demonstrating the connection between stress and weakened immunity is quite remarkable. Most of us know that stress is not good for us and winter is a great season to do something about it! Stretching, meditation, guided relaxation and breathing techniques, exercise, massage and acupuncture are all great tools for managing stress. Sometimes you also need to make changes in your daily schedule in order to reduce stress. Other times you just need to change your mindset, take a deep breath and commit to viewing your life differently—with more gratitude and less angst and rushing around. What would happen if you left the house 10 minutes earlier each morning? Could you take a deep breath and find something to enjoy in the moment on your way to and from work? Could you say to yourself, “this isn’t so hard…I’m making this harder than it needs to be!” If for some reason you really can’t enjoy what you are doing, make yourself move at a slower pace or change your perspective on your current stressful situation, then you can use this season to contemplate and prepare for makings changes in your life that will allow you to better enjoy life with less stress. Use the inward nature of this season to rest, reflect and de-stress!
Acupuncture induces a relaxation response, relieves stress, strengthens your immune system and prevents illness. It has been used for over 3,000 years to prevent and treat colds, coughs and flus. By affecting our central nervous system, acupuncture has a modulating or balancing effect on your immune system—strengthening it when it is weak and calming it down when it is overactive (as in the case of autoimmune conditions). Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are excellent ways to treat colds, coughs and flus when they do hit. When my family gets sick we alway use acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to reduce the length of the illness and prevent complications. I’m regularly amazed at how quickly my family recovers from illnesses that others grapple with all winter long, such as sinus congestion and coughs. In my daughters daycare class, many kids are running around with phlegmy coughs and green boogies nearly all winter long. This reminds me of just how effective acupuncture and herbal medicine is at quickly resolving these nagging colds and coughs. Usually within a week my daughter is symptom free (adults may take a bit longer to heal especially if we are not following the suggestions above)! Compared to what conventional medicine has to offer for cold, cough and flu care, acupuncture is a near miracle!
Staying healthy means you are able to create balance—balance between work, play and rest and balance between yourself and your environment. Your body is a microcosm of the world around you. You are not separate from your environment, therefore acheiving balance means taking into account the season within which you live. Winter in New England provides cold dry weather, short days and long nights. By following the suggestions above, you will be working with the winter season, rather than against it, to create true health for this season and setting a solid foundation for the year to come.