As the cold weather approaches, so does the cold and flu season.  Keep yourself and your family healthy with these five tips to make the most of this time of year.

Plan now for a healthy winter season

1. Adopt a Regular SLEEP/Wake Cycle Rhythm for a Healthy Winter

For a healthy winter, adequate sleep is one of the most paramount things you can do to boost your health. Just a few nights of insufficient sleep can elevate inflammatory markers in your body and reduce your immunity.

At a time when cold and flu viruses tend to run rampant, it is a good idea to go to bed earlier and allow yourself to sleep longer. Around 8-9 hours per night is optimal for most adults in the winter. Ideally, it is best to adopt the same sleep/wake cycle. This means turn in and wake around the same time every day, even on the weekends.

Consider keeping the heat down when it’s time to hit the hay. A more relaxed sleep environment (60-66 degrees) and black-out curtains have been proven to increase sleep quality for most people.

 

I likely don’t need to mention, but I will, avoid screen time before bed or consider blue light blocking glasses or a blue light filtering app on your screen if you’re going to binge on Netflix or scroll through emails before bed. Blue light activates our sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system. Find more Sleep Tips here.

SLEEP/Wake Cycle Rhythm
I need vitamin Sea . . .

2. Consider Extra NUTRIENT Intake

Healthy Eating for a Healthy Winter

You’re smart. You know to eat primarily whole foods; foods your Great-Grandparents would recognize and avoid highly processed foods. BUT, is extra nutrient supplementation necessary for boosting your health this winter? Will it benefit your immune system, or is it a waste of your resources?

The bottom line is that not everyone needs supplementation. That being said, for some, it can make a profound difference in health, immunity, and overall energy levels. A few nutritional and supplementation needs we see a lot:

– Vitamin D

Yes, even in sunny central Oregon! Vitamin D plays an influential immunoregulatory role. It can regulate the expression of hundreds of genes involved in biological functions and is essential for activating our immune defenses. Vitamin D mustn’t not only be lacking, but optimal, ideally in the serum range between 35-60ng/mL for most (if you have an autoimmune condition, your specific needs may be higher).

 

Vitamin D should be in the serum range between 35-60ng/mL for most (if you have an autoimmune condition, your specific needs may be higher).

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so instead of just blinding taking it, it is ideal to check your Vitamin D status. Regular sun exposure is an excellent way to increase your levels naturally; however, this is not a perfect science, especially given the sunscreen we often wear. We see a ton of patients that get plenty of daily sun exposure, yet still have deficient levels of D.

– Omega 3 Fatty Acids

This can be in the form of extra virgin cod liver oil, flax oil, or pure fish oil capsules. To get enough Omega 3 fatty acids is difficult via diet alone, so this is one that most people can benefit from in supplement form.

Omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and boost immunity. These fats can also help with dry skin and achy joints that tend to present more in the colder winter months.
If you are vegan, ALA is an option for Omega 3s (found in plant-based foods such as flax); however, ALA is not as potent as EPA/DHA. If you choose to supplement, talk to your provider for personalized dosing recommendations.

Also, please consider making sure the source is reputable and has been tested for purity with a third party tested label such as the GOED standard. Also try to buy fish oil certified by the MSC, the Environmental Defense Fund, or a similar organization for sustainability.

– Gut Health and Fermented Foods

70-80% of our immune system is in our gut. If you have intestinal dysbiosis or poor gut flora, you’ll be more susceptible to viral (colds and flu) and bacterial infections. Eating a diet rich in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, or yogurt can help strengthen your microbiome (good bacteria in your body) and, therefore, your immunity and your overall health.

*This is not a one-size-fits-all guideline as taking probiotics or eating fermented foods can actually be more harmful than helpful for those with SIBO or unbalanced levels of bacteria in the gut. If you find this is the case for you and notice more gas, bloating, or abdominal pains when consuming fermented foods or probiotics, please reach out to your provider to address this!

Confused about what’s a fermented food? Here’s a list:

Get a List of over 1,000 Fermented Foods

– Vitamin C

Vitamin C contributes substantially to immune defense by supporting multiple cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune systems. I don’t supplement with vitamin C at all times during the year; however, when cold and flu season rolls around, for most, I recommend taking 1g per day as a precaution.

Obviously, there are many other ways to build immunity via nutrition, herbs, supplementation. I need to cut this short as not to write a novel, feel free to drop us a line (contact info at the end) if you would like more information.

Make more time for yourself.

3. Make Sure You Are CONNECTED

Both connections to self and connection to your community can build health. I’ll focus on self here.

The options are endless-

Yin Yoga, Meditation, Prayer, Hiking, Tai Chi, Mindfulness, & Diaphragmatic Breathing (try Box Breathing), to name a few. These are all great ways to get into your body, become more grounded, and decrease stress levels.

We all know stress is harmful, but did you know that prolonged stress actually leads to hyper physiological levels of cortisol, which alters the regulation of both our inflammatory and immune responses?

This means people under higher stress levels are more likely to develop a cold or flu when exposed to the virus. Just one more reason to take that extra time for self-care, soo very hard to do in today’s busy day to day schedules!

Another way to connect and decrease stress is to consider getting up earlier and avoiding looking at your screen or to-do list until you have taken some breaths and found a way to calm your mind.

This is especially important in busy seasons. Bonus points if you can be the first one up in your household and catch some peaceful silence before the chaos ensues. Avoid slipping into the trap of using the time to do tasks!

abhyanga_massage-oil
Health is a relationship between you and your body.

4. Adopt a Practice of ABHYANGA (lymph stimulating self-massage)

In Ayurveda, it is taught that your hands can be another healing tool. Regular practice of self-massage can improve not only your sleep but also stimulate your lymph (an integral part of the immune system).

I know it sounds odd but consider giving it a try! I typically recommend starting with just your dry hands or a dry brush. Before you get dressed in the morning, rub your hands or the brush over your body to stimulate lymph and blood flow.

If you want to use moisture, lightly towel off after your shower, and use high-quality warm sesame oil on your skin, especially the drier areas. Massage the oil into your skin using long strokes over your long bones and round strokes at your joints.

You can also massage your abdomen using a clockwise rotation.  It helps with circulation, and detoxification and is oh, soo—relaxing, which reduces stress and therefore, inflammation—big win.  It’s usually done in the morning, and what a great way to start your day, but you will likely find that you also sleep better at night as well.

Find you fire!

5. Don't just exercise, find a physical activity that you ENJOY!

Move your body and help flush toxins, boost immunity, and promote lymphatic flow. Find a way to be in your body and move in a way that feels good; and that you look forward to.

This is the key to making it part of your day to day life. If you currently dread exercising, please try something new. There are many different options out there: social, solo, adrenaline pumping, grounding, or otherwise! Keep experimenting until you find an activity that brings you joy.

Beyond getting our blood pumping, exercise has a profound effect on our immune systems. You will likely realize more benefit if you can break a sweat and release endorphins (also known as the runner’s high) which also have immune-boosting qualities.

As an extra incentive, by getting your heart rate up and taking in more breath, you enable your brain to concentrate more, have more creativity, and potentially make better decisions (leading to better health).

exercise
Simple is Sustainable
Keep in mind, it is essential to try to implement just one significant change per week for several months, as opposed to trying to implement many new practices at one time.

I like to teach about the principle of Kaizen. This principle basically means regular small incremental changes will add up over time, often more than one more substantial change that may not be sustainable.

Reach out to a friend who also wants to build better health and implement these practices together!

I’d love to hear how things are going for you! Please feel free to contact me directly at
https://shiftfunctionalmed.com/contact/

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