‘Tis the season for pumpkins, apple picking, fall foliage... and the flu! I have mixed feelings about the flu shot. I don’t personally rely on it (fact: the dosage is also made for a 5’9” white male, yet given to everyone in the same dosage). Knock on wood, I haven’t ever had the flu in the fall. I also don’t recommend it to my patients who are healthy adults (it’s different for immune compromised adults, etc). I manage to stay healthy with tried and true remedies.
Here are some of my go-to routines for staying healthy through the cold and flu season.
Socks and scarves
What your mother told you is true! Acupuncturists are notorious for telling patients to wear scarves and socks. It’s important to keep your neck and feet covered and warm during cold and flu season. From an acupuncture perspective, this age-old advice comes down to one thing: Wind. In Chinese medicine, Wind is "the cause of 10,000 diseases"- and common colds are just the tip of the iceberg. Depending on how deep Wind has penetrated the body, it can cause allergies, arthritis, stiff neck, headaches, body aches, asthma, skin rashes, hives, dizziness, and more.
With a common cold, the body’s defenses (the immune system) are low. Wind finds a way in through vulnerable spots like the back of the neck, which is known as the “Wind gate” in Chinese medicine.
This time of year especially, don’t leave home without a scarf. And ditch the flip flops!
Sleep is important any time of the year, but especially in the wintertime. Winter is like the nighttime of the whole year because it is colder, darker, and more quiet than the rest of the year. Just as our bodies rest and reset for the next day at night, winter is when our bodies need to rest for the busy warmer months ahead.
In Chinese medicine, too little sleep can be linked to anxiety, poor immunity, hormonal imbalances, stress, and low energy. Ideally adults should be getting at least 7-8 hours per night (we even push 8-9 hours with our patients!). If you’re missing out on a full night sleep, try taking naps, getting to bed earlier, and just generally slowing down a bit.
If you have trouble sleeping, it is important to still use nighttime to rest. Your body needs that dark, still, quiet time in order to balance out all the energy you use during the day.
Single biggest offender: your phone. Put down your phone! Charge it outside of your room, not next to you on your nightstand. You can also try staying off the computer within 2 hours of bedtime, and not watching TV. Screens are stimulating and can trick the brain into thinking it’s time to be awake. Turn down the lights, climb into bed, and do something that relaxes you like light stretching, meditating, listening to soothing music, or reading. You can also try incorporating melatonin or CBD oil into your evening routine (I personally love CBD- it's a huge game changer with my sleep issues from running a business). Eventually, even if you still can’t sleep, turn all the lights out, lie down, and rest. Your body will ultimately find a way to rest, but it may have to get sick or extremely fatigued in order for that to happen.
For more self-care tips for sleep, read this!
This probably isn’t a new word for you. These are the “good” bacteria that live in the gut (mostly the small intestine). They are essential to digestion and also play a huge roll in immunity. They are one of our first lines of defense and compete with harmful bacteria that may invade the body.
Probiotics occur naturally in fermented or cultured foods, like kombucha, raw apple cider vinegar, sour pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and yogurt. If you rely on these foods, just be careful of the sugar you’re consuming in the ‘booch, kefir and yogurt. Also, the amount of probiotics in these foods doesn’t compare to taking probiotics supplements.
I highly recommend taking a daily probiotic. Everyday, no matter who you are. My first choice is MegaSpore probiotics because of the diverse amount of bacteria strains. There’s also Jarrow’s Jarro-Dophilus￼ because they don’t require refrigeration. Probiotics provide a big boost of live strains and I’ve never seen anyone have a side effect from taking proper amounts of good-quality probiotics. Especially after an illness or taking antibiotics, it is important to build your gut flora back up by getting an extra boost of probiotics.
Oh, stress. In our office, we call it the New Yorker Syndrome. Stress can negatively impact so many aspects of our lives, so it is no surprise that it’s been proven to weaken the immune system. Cold and flu season is a particularly important time to make sure stress is maintained and low (especially heading into the holiday season). As I mentioned regarding sleep, our bodies need quiet and calm times to balance out the more stressful and hectic hours in the day.
My go-to routine is a combination of meditation, acupuncture, physical activity and spending time in nature to stay relaxed. If you find yourself feeling frantic, focus on activities that slow you down. Sometimes it can be as simple as putting your bare feet in the grass at Madison Square Park to ground you. Or a 15-minute massage at a nail salon. Find these things that slow you down and incorporate them into your schedule, and find a routine that works for you.
Exercise helps to circulate blood, speed up metabolism, strengthen immunity, detoxify the body, and improve mental health. It’s so much more than for weight loss. I also have seen it help many forms of chronic pain- my mother did gentle exercise during her chemotherapy, and it helped her side effects (as did acupuncture, etc).
Even if you are limited by an injury, energy level or time, finding some form of regular exercise is absolutely paramount to staying healthy all year long. This time of year, especially in colder climates, there is a temptation to spend more time inside and less time outside moving around. But, exercise almost always pays off. If you aren’t in the habit of working out regularly, start with walking. You can do this nearly any time of day, almost anywhere, and you can bring a friend or interesting podcast along to help distract you. Park your car further away in the parking lot. Get off a stop early on the subway. Perhaps you can start to add in other activities at your own pace, like hiking, quick 15-minutes runs, yoga classes, light weight training, a dance class, or whatever works for you.
My favorite go-to classes in NYC:
Running: Mile High Run Club
Yoga: The Shala, Yoga Vida, Modo, Kula (I used to be a yoga teacher, so I’m quite picky!)
Indoor cycling: Swerve Fitness, FlyWheel
Strength Training/ HIIT: Body Space Fitness, Fhitting Room, HIIT IT!, Orange Theory Fitness
Try to get all the vitamins you can from the food you eat. In NYC, our produce, meat, and dairy are easily accessible from local sources, which does sometimes means visiting the farmers’ market 1-3 times per week. This can be a little less convenient than going to the nearby grocery store, but it’s worth it. Lower transit time from farm to table means more nutrients retained and fresher food that keeps longer in the fridge. Focus on nutrient-dense foods like grass-fed meat and dairy, organ meats, local bee products, bone broth, and organic seasonal produce.
Because we don’t absorb all the vitamins and minerals we need, supplement your diet with a few whole foods, like fermented cod liver oil, omega-3 fish oil and blue-green micro-algae. It can give your immune system more of the nutrients it needs to stay strong. If you are curious about eating a real-food diet, I like Real Food: What to Eat and Why,￼ by Nina Planck. For those who still need more nutrition, try taking a multivitamin from a reputable brand. Also, you may have nutritional deficits that come from your gut actually not being able to absorb things- functional nutrition and functional medicine programs can test you to see what exactly you’re missing that’s preventing you from being optimally healthy. For more info on that: robinrandisi.com.
People have been consuming bone broth to stay healthy for a loooong time. It has so many benefits that I think nearly everyone could benefit from drinking it regularly (particularly if you’re in rehab for an injury!).
Once a week, you can make a big pot of bone broth and drink it almost every day. Use it for soup, sauces, and for braising veggies- bone broth is especially good for simmering with collard greens or kale.
The immune-building properties of bone broth are well known. I believe regular consumption is a huge contributor to the strength of one's immune system. If you’re already sick, bone broth also is great for recovery. Here's a great recipefrom our blog a few years ago:
Drinking herbal teas in the fall and winter can be a great easy addition to keep you warm and healthy. You can try starting the morning with ginger tea to stimulate digestion. It is also an immune tonic, and it warms you up. You can also toss in spiced chai, chamomile, fresh mint, gynostemma, raspberry leaf, licorice, or other herbal blends. Gynostemma is especially good for immunity and is packed with antioxidants. It is believed to promote longevity and has been proven to have a number of other benefits like reducing cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and balancing blood sugar. It is one of the most popular teas in Asia and is often consumed daily. Check out the Dragon Herbs￼ brand.
Whatever works best for calls to you, try it out this season. If you just choose one thing, my suggestion would be to make sure your sleep is consistent and you’re getting enough. We wish you a happy, healthy fall season.
In Gratitude and Health,
Sara and Mary