I’m sure you have noticed the barrage of flu related news stories, Facebook posts, products and conversations lately. It’s been hard to miss. I spent some time thinking about “Cold and Flu Season” and wanted to share some of the simple action steps we can take to enhance our immune systems and reduce our susceptibility to illnesses such as cold/flu. I deliberately used the word simple rather than easy. Most of the things I am about to mention are very simple, but can prove to be much more challenging that we might think. I think that with a little awareness and an eye toward how good we can feel with a healthy, active lifestyle, it’s a challenge that we can all enjoy!
I don’t believe that there are germs and viruses that lay in hiding during the rest of the year and suddenly emerge from December to March with a vengeance… so what is it about this time of year that makes people sick? After thinking for a while about what is so different about this time of year that could predispose people to cold/flu I believe a big contributing component is “the holiday hangover”. Regardless of your ethnic and/or religious background and what holidays you choose to celebrate, many people spend more time than usual in celebration mode from November to January. Getting together to celebrate any uplifting holiday or message is a wonderful thing. A less wonderful thing is the cumulative result of eating much more sugar than usual, drinking more alcohol than usual, exercising less than usual, getting off of your normal sleep schedule, stressing about finances and family interaction… and the list goes on and on. If you have ever experienced illness after the “let down” of a big stressor (after exams in school, after your wedding, etc) you know what I’m talking about. The holidays can take a toll as a stressor in many ways… chemical, physical, mental/emotional. At this time of year, we have run our immune systems into the ground and then we are surprised when we get sick. While we can’t go back in time and change the choices we made this past holiday season, we can take steps to get back on track and to plan for future celebrations in a more mindful way.
Another element that can contribute to both decreased immunity and the winter blahs in this climate is Vitamin D levels. It has been a while since we have seen or felt the warmth of the sun. Many people have waning levels of Vitamin D at this time of year, so it is a good idea to see your primary care doctor to have you levels tested to determine the appropriate amount of supplementation (remembering that D3 is the more beneficial form).
To help feel your very best and to prevent all types of illness, start with the basics. Build a firm foundation on a whole foods diet that is heavy on vegetables (all colors) and includes healthy fat and protein sources (such as grass-fed beef, game, free range chicken, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, soy free eggs, etc). Have fruit as a dessert if you feel the need for some sweets. Eliminate or reduce tobacco products, other drugs, processed foods, alcohol, soft drinks, caffeine, refined grain products, soy and any other foods that you know don’t agree with you. Drink lots of water each day.
Spend time moving for at least 30 minutes per day. Walk, run, ski, yoga, CrossFit, Pilates, bike, dance, whatever feels good to you! Get up from sitting and move/stretch often… like at least once per hour of seated work!
Breathe! No… really breathe. If your mind or your body has forgotten what this means or what it really feels like, take a yoga or Pilates class with an instructor who will spend time reminding you, or contact me and I would be happy to work with you on breath retraining. Breathing well is one of the best, easiest and least expensive things we can do for ourselves and all it takes is a little practice and awareness. Better (more aware) breathing is my main physical goal for 2013. That’s how important I think breathing well is.
Seek out services that support your wellness journey. This will be a different and diverse mix for each individual. Let yourself try many services (bodywork, energy work, etc) and see what combination works best for you. Remember to include active care (the stuff you do for yourself like postural exercises/stretches, self massage, meditation, etc) in your bag of tricks.
Befriend your mind and allow it to be your ally in life, rather than your tormentor. You are the one person you will be with for your entire life. Decide what kind of person you want to spend your time with and be that friend to yourself.
Make time for restful activities and good quality and quantity sleep. Most of us know what this means and can follow through with intention. If you want more information about sleep hygiene, let me know and I would be happy to provide it for you.
There you have it. My list of ways to stay healthy during flu and cold season. While it isn’t all inclusive and it is a bit rambling, it is a great starting place for just about everyone (myself included). If you are looking for other ways to support your immune system check out the Flu Prevention and Care workshop held at Spark Wellness on January 26, 3:30-5pm (cost $35). A variety of wellness approaches to flu prevention and care will be presented.
As always, feel free to contact me with any questions. Please leave a comment sharing how you and your family are staying healthy this cold and flu season.