Winter Wellness Guide

20 ways to fight colds and flu, beat the blues, stay energized, and cope with other seasonal health challenges.

Winter Wellness Guide
Pin it courtesy of Shutterstock

Fly healthy.
Prevent airborne illnesses when traveling by lubricating the nostrils and the inside of the ear with raw (untoasted) sesame oil. Olive oil is a decent substitute but does not possess the same anti-fungal, anti-bacterial properties as sesame. Protecting yourself from food-borne illness is simple: Don't eat the standard plane fare! Try fasting on hot herbal teas such as chamomile and mint or on hot water with lemon and honey, or call the airline ahead of time to request an East Asian vegetarian meal. The regular vegetarian meal tends to be loaded with poor-quality dairy that can depress the immune system, but the East Asian selection is more likely to be vegan. They can't really mess that up too much.
--Scott Blossom, O.M.D., yoga instructor and Ayurveda practitioner

Relax from head to toe.
The people who get sick in the winter are the ones who are stressed out. To stay healthy, make an effort to activate the relaxation response every single day. Try this exercise:
1. Sit or lie in a comfortable and quiet place with your body fully supported by a chair or the floor. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths: deep inhale, deep exhale.
2. Bring your attention to the top of your head. Focus on your scalp and your forehead, noticing whether there's any tension there. Give it permission to just let go.
3. Progressively move your attention down through your body, from head to toe, assessing each of the muscles along the way and then mentally releasing any tension you find. Move from your head to your neck, shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, and fingers, your back all the way down your spinal column, around to your belly, your hips, buttocks, thighs, knees, calves, the arches of your feet, and your toes. The idea is to let go of the tension in your mind.
4. Take all the time you need. If there are places that still seem to be holding tension after you finish, return there. Give that place permission to let go. Only when you feel completely relaxed should you slowly bring your attention back to the present.
--Tracy Gaudet, M.D., director of the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine and author of Consciously Female

Have a bowl of qi soup.
A thousand years ago, the Chinese started their tradition of eating a festive soup on the eighth day of the last lunar month (known as la ba) to bring about winter wellness. They believe that winter is the time for the body to store nutrients and that eating well will bring improved health for the upcoming year. La Ba Rice Soup usually includes rice, red beans, soybeans, peanuts, walnuts, chestnuts, red dates, or lotus seeds. In Chinese medical theory, these ingredients are potent anti-aging foods. Red dates, chestnuts, and lotus seeds tonify qi, the vital energy of the human body. To make the soup:
1. Choose any combination of the ingredients mentioned above.
2. Place two-thirds rice and one-third nuts, beans, dates, and/or seeds in a saucepan.
3. Add enough water to cover all the ingredients, then soak overnight.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until the beans and rice are very soft. Take one small bowl a day.
--Lihua Wang, acupuncturist and author of Chinese Home Remedies

Save your skin.
When the weather cools, we turn on our heaters, drying out the air and consequently our skin. I usually change to a mild cleanser, like Cetaphil, Aveeno, or glycerin soap, and use it only on those areas that require washing: generally just the "folds" in the skin or, as my wife says, "only where skin touches skin." After washing, I'm always certain to moisturize those areas that are prone to dryness--lower legs, hands and forearms, and upper back--with a cream-based moisturizer; the lotion-based "moisturizers" tend to dry the skin rather than emolliate. These basic steps can prevent developing dry, cracked, itchy skin.
--Jon Starr, M.D., dermatologist