Simple Steps Towards Winter Wellness:

Registered massage therapist, Jane Podmore, offers a few self care tips for how to stay well this winter. 

The air is crisp, the leaves have fallen and the winter winds are just around the corner. Fall presents the perfect opportunity to relax, reflect and be thankful for all of the beauty the year has brought to us. It's also, however, the time of year where our healthy habits seem to dwindle. 

While colds and flus can strike at any time, they run rampant in the cold, damp months ahead, making it the most important time to take good care of our health. Admittedly, I find late fall the most challenging time to do so. 

As the last of this years harvest is picked, the mornings grow darker and the roads become slick with rain. Something about the greyness of October and November seems to tempt me out of my daily wellness routine. 

With this in mind, I've gathered a list of my favourite winter immune building solutions and pasted it to my refrigerator door. All in hopes that it will act as a daily reminder of just how easy it can be to remain healthful throughout this time of year. 

Seven Simple tips to help keep your immune system strong and your energy up all winter long: 

1. Introduce your Nose to the Neti Pot 

The neti pot, a standby of yogic and Ayurvedic practitioners, is an unlikely health hero. Originating in India, these squat ceramic pots are traditionally used to cleanse your sinuses with salty water, helping to remove mucus, flush germs, prevent respiratory tract infections and to relieve allergies and colds.

A study published earlier this year has confirmed what these yogi's have known for thousands of years - that people with colds and flu who regularly use a nasal wash get well faster, take less medication and fight off future colds better than those who don't.

Because most colds enter the body through the nose's mucous membranes, eliminating these germs at the source is our best defense.

2. Just Add Water

To ward off germs drink at least 6-8 glasses of water or other non caffeinated beverages per day. Your body's fluids are made up mostly of water and are responsible for transporting nutrients to your body's tissues and for carrying away the waste products. Dehydration not only dries out your mucous membranes but also inhibits your body eliminating toxins efficiently. When battling an illness it is absolutely essential to stay well hydrated throughout the day. 

3. You are what you eat 

Although winter is a time of colds and flus, in Chinese Medicine it is actually considered the best season for improving immunity. Our digestive fire, and therefore capacity, is higher in cold weather making us better able to absorb the heavier foods that can nourish us at our tissue's deepest levels. 

Immune boosting foods are freshly made and well prepared, organic, and easy to digest. Tailored to the season, these foods fill the body with Qi (pronounced “chee”) and vital life force, giving your body a much needed immune boost. 

Celebrate Greens – Dark leafy greens such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, bok choy, cauliflower, kale, and mustard are great examples of vegetables that can increase your body's ability to fight infection and cancer. With their potent source of beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, folate, and calcium they are considered a go-to resource for staving off illness. Vitamin C helps to increase your resistance to disease and keeps your defenses strong while disease busting carotenoids break down in the body to form the oh so vital vitamin A. Studies have suggested that Vitamin A may help keep the respiratory system healthy. So bring on the broccoli for its immune enhancing benefits! 

Yam it up! Orange colored vegetables including carrots, winter squash, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes, are an excellent source of Vitamin C and Beta-carotene as well. The lining of your lungs and digestive system, which are the front lines of your body's war on infection, depend on the powerful antioxidant Beta-Carotene to function properly. Your body converts Beta-Carotene into Vitamin A which protects the thymus gland, the body's production site for T-cells, and helps the proteins that regulate cell-to-cell communication. 

Mushroom Magic - Mushrooms supercharge your immune system by increasing the number of disease fighting white blood cells in your bloodstream. This helps to increase your cellular metabolism, remove toxins, and prevent damage from free radicals. From the approximate 700 varieties of mushrooms that are edible, your best choices are shitake and maitake, both of which contain polysaccharides, sterols, coumarin, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that increase your immune function. For an extra immunity boost, look for dried medicinal mushrooms such as reishi. Their pro-immunity punch equals that of fresh ones. 

Whole Grain Health
- Whole grains such as oats, quinoa, amaranth, and brown rice improve your immunity, reduce inflammation, and protect you from the risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Rich in fiber, vitamin B, folic acid, zinc, selenium and other nutrients, these slow-burning carbs will keep your energy steady for hours. 

Spice Up Your Plate - Onions, garlic, leeks, and chives charge the immune system with their potent flavor and rich reserves of Vitamin C, potassium, chromium and selenium. Our body uses selenium to produce infection-thwarting T-cells, which in turn destroy bacteria and viruses. Studies show that this antioxidant instigates the good bacteria in our intestines to attack bad bacteria and parasites like E. coli. Additionally, veggies in the Allium family help guard you from the diseases like diabetes, arthritis, heart diseases and certain forms of cancer, and
contain oils that are antimicrobial to help stimulate immunity. Other potent herbs and spices that support your immune system include ginger, cilantro, rosemary, sage, turmeric, and oregano. 

4. The stress factor

Stress is the immune system's worst enemy. Be it emotional, physical or mental stress, internally we respond the same way: our blood pressure rises, our heart pumps faster, and our muscles constrict. Over time, high levels of stress hormones dampen our immune system, making us more susceptible to catching colds and flus, and less able to recover from them quickly. Stress has also been found to stimulate immune-suppressing chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline. 
Fortunately, however, there are stacks of research articles proving the effectiveness of stress reducing activities. Activities such as meditation, relaxation, massage, and yoga can effectively help us find balance and enhance our germ-fighting potential. 
According to Lee Berk, researcher at Loma Linda University in California, “specifically, detrimental stress hormones decrease when you look forward to something you enjoy," So whether it's going for regular massage or hamming it up with your best buds, be sure to make time for your favourite stress reducing activities this season.

5. Sweat it out

We are built for movement and our health depends on it. Movement increases circulation and circulation fires all of the complex and interdependent biochemical reactions in your body. Increasing your heart rate speeds up the circulation of white blood cells, making it more likely they will fight colds and infections early on. So, not only does exercise build muscle and encourage bone formation, it helps us stay healthy too.

To prime your immune system, get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day. Whether you like to walk, run, dance, or swim, get out there and MOVE! 

6. Get plenty of Zzz's 

The University of Illinois Medical Center reports that chronic sleep deprivation stresses the immune system and can increase your likelihood of developing infections and chronic diseases.

This is because our body needs rest from the stress and strain of daily life to get recharged. We depend on adequate restful sleep to restore our tissues and refresh our minds. During deep sleep, our bodies release potent immune-enhancing substances that strengthen immune function. It is especially important to get additional rest when we are ill. 

7. Holistic health care 

Acupuncture and massage therapy can both play an important role in your overall wellness and wellbeing. Regular “maintenance” massage sessions, perhaps once every 4-6 weeks, helps to increase circulation, flush toxins in the body and has a wonderful relaxation effect. 

According to The World Health Organization, acupuncture is effective in preventing colds and flus, and shortening the duration of a flu/cold if it is contracted. 

Wishing you good health and a strong immune system this fall season!

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