New data has found that not only does wearing a mask help protect us from respiratory viruses but face coverings warm and humidify the air we breathe which also have a very positive effect on our immune response. This finding fits exactly into the ancient Chinese theory that during the winter we need to protect ourselves from external pathogens, or Wind which is why Chinese doctors encourage us to wrap our necks and lower face in a scarf during the winter. They also counsel us to consume warm liquids in the form of root vegetable soups and herbal teas to offset what they call Internal Dryness that can lead to a dry cough and a scratchy throat.
Long periods of anxiety can weaken our immune response, but Chinese medicine has an answer to that problem as well; they encourage us to practice letting go of minor stressors and to focus on what we have accomplished rather than worry about what lies ahead. Chinese docs also believe that retreating and resting during the winter can help us relieve stress and gain access to inner peace. Meditation, exercise, and involvement with family and friends can help us manage our anxiety and keep us living in the moment.
A large part of our body’s immune system lives in our digestive organs, and Chinese nutritionists encourage us to consume a diverse diet that balances our gut microbiome and helps keep us well. According to Chinese medicine theory, our diet in the winter should feature nourishing high fiber berries and root vegetables, as well as fermented foods that contain gut-friendly probiotics that traditionally included soy sauce, fish sauce, and fermented bean curd, but in modern times add yogurt and kefir to help keep us well.
Vitamin D is is an immune system boosting nutrient that reduces the risk of contracting viruses—it is found in foods like oily fish, egg yolks, and whole milk but 90% of the vitamin D in our bodies is made from contact with direct sunlight. It is thought that 10-20 minutes of sun exposure a few times a week is an appropriate balance between producing enough vitamin D while avoiding the risk of skin cancer, but other healthcare professionals believe that taking vitamin D taken as a supplement is the safest route to follow.
Chinese medicine theory has always paid careful attention to the importance of restorative sleep because a lack of sleep can depress our immune system and make it harder for our body to fight off infections. Healthy sleep allows our body and mind to recharge which leaves us feeling fresh and alert when we awaken, boosts immunity, and helps us stave off diseases. Restorative sleep also improves our brain’s ability to function correctly.
We must practice a healthy lifestyle to promote robust immunity which means paying careful attention to our diet, getting an adequate amount of sleep and exercise, and pursuing a tranquil frame of mind. Let’s all do our best to work toward better health and a safer world in 2021 and beyond.
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