Protecting Health in Winter

In traditional Chinese medicine, each solar term is associated with specific health considerations and recommendations to align with the seasonal changes. “Dàxuě” (Greater Snow) marks the period of early December when the weather becomes significantly colder, and snow may start falling in some regions.

A fundamental concept of Eastern medicine is that illness is created by cold. Life is warmth, light, and movement. Cold is death. One of the earliest and most influential classical Chinese medical texts is the “Treatise on Cold Damage,” written by Zhang Zhongjing, a renowned Chinese physician from the Eastern Han dynasty. It focuses on diagnosing and treating illnesses caused by external factors, particularly cold and other environmental influences.

Since I live in the mountains, I am very aware of the realities of living in the cold. Here are some general health significance and tips associated with this solar term and the cold:

  1. Protecting Against the Cold:
    • As temperatures drop, protecting against the cold is essential to prevent cold-related illnesses such as the common cold, flu, muscle pain, and arthritis.
    • My recommendation is to overdress any body part that is prone to pain, inflammation, or arthritis. In particular, I recommend drying your hands until completely dry when you wash them so there is no cold water to interact with the cold. In particular, protect your neck, wrists, and ankles.
    • Stop icing injuries: Healing requires circulation. Ice slows circulation and is detrimental to healing and recovery due to suppressing the normal immune response. The research shows icing disrupts inflammation, delays neutrophil and macrophage infiltration, and the anabolic hormone Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which sparks the next phase of the healing process, muscle repair, and regeneration. This is extremely important during the winter when most injuries need healthy circulation through warmth to heal.
  2. Emphasizing Warm and Nourishing Foods:
    • Traditional Chinese dietary principles recommend warming and nourishing foods during colder seasons to keep your body warm from the inside out.
    • Particular warming foods include foods cooked and baked for long periods: stews, root vegetables, and foods that provide warmth and energy to the body. Also, add warming spices such as cinnamon, clove, cardamom, turmeric, fennel, cumin, and coriander.
  3. Boosting the Immune System:
    • With the increased likelihood of colds and flu during winter, supporting the immune system becomes crucial, which can be done through food, tea, and rest.
    • A rule to remember is to use the stove’s energy to cook your food instead of using your body’s energy to cook the food.
    • Consuming nourishing foods, such as soups and herbal teas, and getting adequate rest can help strengthen the body’s defenses.
  4. Balancing Yin and Yang:
    • In Chinese medicine, it’s believed that maintaining the balance between yin and yang is vital for health. During Greater Snow, there may be a focus on balancing the cooling yin energy with practices that generate warmth and yang energy.
    • You can generate yang energy with breathwork, Qi Gong, warming herbs, and foods.
  5. Preventing Respiratory Issues:
    • Cold weather can sometimes exacerbate respiratory conditions. When exercising outside, it’s important to learn how to inhale through your nose to warm the air before it gets to your lungs.
    • Incorporating herbs that support the respiratory system may be recommended.
  6. Adapting Lifestyle Practices:
    • Adjusting daily routines and lifestyle practices according to seasonal changes is a fundamental aspect of traditional Chinese medicine. Adopting practices that align with winter’s slower, more restful energy can help maintain and create health.
    • Consider getting an extra hour of sleep for additional support.

It’s important to note that individual health needs can vary, and recommendations may differ based on factors such as constitution, existing health conditions, and geographical location. Feel free to let me know if you want personalized advice tailored to specific health concerns.