5 Secrets to Winter Health and Energy

When the weather gets colder, take some time for yourself to restore your energy. Don't resist the urge to nestle into your snug home; it turns out that the law of nature requires you to slow down in the winter. Here are 5 secrets that will preserve your energy, bringing you health and tranquility.

Winter: the sleep of nature

The winter season is when nature sleeps, and everything experiences the slowing of natural processes -- even our bodies. Humans stopped hibernating like their ancestral cousins long ago, but our bodies still experience the natural inclination to slow down in winter. The winter is a time to come back to quietness and rebuild your energy reserves.

Nearly five millennia ago, the Yellow Emperor's Classics of Medicine recognized the seasonal influences on health and illness. According to Chinese medicine, the winter season is linked to kidneys, the adrenal glands, and the bladder; when these bodily systems are out of balance, it depletes energy and leads the way to illness. During the cold months of winter, people are more prone to colds, flu, poor circulation, low vitality, and seasonal mood disorders.

To stay healthy, happy, and vital, follow the wise winter advice of the Yellow Emperor:

1. Early to bed, rise when the sun is up
Go to sleep early and wait to let the sun bathe the house before rising from bed. Get your zzz's in -- at least 8 hours of sleep every night. Try taking a 20- to 30-minute easy walk one hour before you go to bed to improve the quality of your sleep.

2. Be contented
The Yellow Emperor advises us to avoid experiencing excessive emotions in the winter because they drain your energy reserves.

Follow your bliss. Use the cold dark days of winter to stay in and cuddle up with a book, or pick up a new indoor hobby, like knitting, woodcarving, baking -- whatever appeals to you.

Beat the winter blues with light therapy. Studies show that exposure to sunlight stimulates the pineal gland, which affects the production of other brain chemicals such as serotonin, the neurotransmitter sometimes called the "mood chemical." It can also boost your immune system, waking up the activities of the natural killer cells that patrol our borders looking for intruders and cancer cells. If weather permits, get outdoors daily and let the sun bathe you with its life-giving and spirit-lifting properties. Even in the winter, avoid overexposure with sunscreen if out in the sun between 10 am - 3 pm.

3. Nurture energy storage
The three months of winter are when all living things should return home and be conserved. Engage in activities that are in harmony with the energies of winter.

Physical movement is essential for circulating energy -- but avoid perspiring excessively. In Chinese medicine, the sweat is seen as an escape of yang energy. Nurture your energy reserves by being active in a moderate way. Walking is one moderate activity to keep your energy up. Or consider practicing tai chi or qigong exercises, which are very effective in balancing energy.

Avoid energy-depleting activities. Don't try to do too much in one day. Try making only one or two items a priority every day. And be sure you give yourself some personal time, not just from other people, but also from our modern amenities that claim ever more of our personal space, such as TV, computers, and smart phones. Try this: pick one day a week to perform your own "system restore." Turn off the TV. Don't watch the news. Limit your email time. These are the ways to maintain your energy and lessen stress.

4. Eat for the season: no raw, cold foods
To keep your health and energy up in the cold months of winter, the Yellow Emperor recommends avoiding cold and raw foods, reducing salt to protect your kidneys, and increasing bitter flavors (like kale, for instance.) So steer clear of raw vegetables, cold salads, and icy cold foods and beverages. Instead your diet should follow nature's menu for the seasons.

In winter, you'll tend toward a warming diet including leeks, onions, and turnips. Also, iron-rich foods can help warm you up: try spinach, broccoli, dried plums, oats, quinoa, sunflower and sesame seeds, walnuts, yams, squash, kale, garlic, scallions, and parsley. Hearty soups are good for you during the winter months. Drink only warm or hot water.

5. Avoid coldness and linger around warmth
• Dress warmly, paying special attention to your middle. In Chinese medicine, the abdomen is considered the storehouse of the body's energy. Keeping your abdomen warm and protected from weather extremes has immense immunity benefits. A good way to replenish your energy bank is to regularly place a hot water bottle on your middle.

• Drink warming tea to keep your vitality fired up. Steep 1 teaspoon of any of the following in 1 cup of hot water: ginger, cinnamon, and clove. Or try the Winter Tea to expel cold, warm your kidney/adrenal system, and stoke your sensual fire.

• Chinese herbs can protect your energy reserves and boost your immunity. Astragalus and ginseng are considered to be adaptogens -- natural substances that improve the body's resistance to physical and environmental stress, thereby enhancing the immune system. For a whole body tune-up that gives you high tolerance to stress, physical vitality, and strong immunity, try a balanced combination of 44 traditional Chinese herbs that support healthy function of the bodily systems, the Five Elements of Health Formula.

If you go against these rules for winter, it is said that weakness and coldness in the extremities will leave your energy level weakened in the spring.

I hope this advice gives you the steps for a healthy, happy winter! I invite you to visit often and share your own personal health and longevity tips with me.

May you live long, live strong, and live happy!

-Dr. Mao

This blog is meant to educate, but it should not be used as a substitute for personal medical advice. The reader should consult his or her physician or clinician for specific information concerning specific medical conditions. While all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that all information presented is accurate, as research and development in the medical field is ongoing, it is possible that new findings may supersede some data presented.

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To learn more about Dr. Mao and other natural health tips, go to askdrmao.com.

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