The new year has begun. We enter into the period of Minor Cold on the 5th of January although for many serious cold has already come. As the period progresses, however, weather rapidly reaches its coldest. In view of this perhaps whether we make New Year resolutions or not we should resolve to guard our health.
Avoid drafts, stay out of the cold, bundle up; all those old bits of advice for keeping healthy in winter weather were disparaged for years. Cold doesn’t cause illness, viruses and bacteria do. However, the world is no longer regarded as flat and stones do fall from the sky. They’re called meteorites. Science has finally caught up with grandma. It has been found that viruses thrive at colder temperatures and also, our genes express themselves differently in different seasons, with roughly 25% of our DNA changing. The immune system ramps up the inflammation response in cold weather. Our bodies seem to anticipate increased possibility of illness.
Originally, winter illness was thought increase as a result of being cooped up in overheated places with contagious co-workers, schoolmates and family members. This is certainly a contributor. It’s known rhinoviruses and influenza are spread by aerosol droplets from coughing and sneezing. The drier air of heated rooms promotes the size of droplets most conducive to remaining airborne and being breathed in to cause disease. Even a sneeze from a seemingly healthy person can be speading germs.
So what can we do to protect ourselves? Start with your home enviroment. You don’t generally find people complaining about the cold on a 60F/15.5C fall day. Yet I go into homes in winter heated to 70F/21C and above. Set your thermostat a bit lower. This not only helps your bodily health but your financial health; your heating bill will be lower. Get a humidifier. Small ones can be quite effective. If you are waking up with dryness in your sinuses or eyes, the air is too dry. You will sleep better and maintain that layer of mucous that helps block germs.
In our house we need to keep up the humidity because dry air causes static electricity. This is a problem for the cats. Friendly nose touches discharge static in shocks, which leads to hissing and batting and general upset. Cats also get colds and URIs (upper respiratory infections). While URIs are most common in kittens, senior cats are as vulerable as senior humans, and I don’t want my girls sick.
Be sure to keep yourself hydrated as well as your house. Winter is the perfect time to drink herbal teas. They taste good, warm you up and help get liquid into you. In the heat we naturally get thirsty but in the cold the urge is not as strong. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on commercial teas that may have inappropriate ingredients or been sitting on a shelf growing stale. Tea from fresh ginger root or cinnamon sticks is easy to make, scents the house with a lovely smell and very healthy. Gingerol, the active ingredient in ginger has strong antibiotic properties, among other benefits. Cinnamon has antibiotic, antiviral and antifugal properties.
If you are already doing the things you should, eating fresh healthy food, getting enough sleep, and finding ways to lower the negative stress in your life, these few extra steps can often make the difference in winter health. I honestly can’t remember the last time I got a cold. In my early twenties I had a serious reaction to a flu shot and it’s been over forty years since without any flu shots. The last time I had the flu was in the mid-90s, when I was working a particularly demanding job with work weeks of 65 hours or more at years end. This was cleared up by my accupuncturist at the time and was much less serious than the earlier reaction.
Still, some people probably should consider flu shots. Just be sure you read up on your own and don’t take things for granted. Many people fathfully get shots each year with no ill effects and other people have reactions like I did. Discuss the precautions you should take with your health care provider and then, regardless of what else you do, take good care of youself. It’s the best resolution you can make for the New Year and protect against the cold season, whether it be the weather or the germs.