Winter is fast approaching – boo! – and with it come the sniffles, congestion, and body aches of the cold and flu. Sickness is all too common during the winter months, but I know ten ways to stay healthy this winter so you can enjoy the season without any coughing, aching, stuffy head … you know the rest.
Tip #1 – Eat Nutrient Dense Foods
Our diets naturally tend to change as the weather gets colder and the days shorter. Gone are the fresh peaches and slices of juicy watermelon to be replaced by … well, that part’s up to you and can make all the difference in whether you spend the winter sick or well.
It should come as no surprise that filling winter evenings with snack foods like potato chips, cookies, and cream-filled cakes will result is a weakened immune system and more frequent illness.
Refined white sugar actually has a depressing action on the immune system – the more you eat, the weaker your immune system will become.
Instead, choose more traditional, wholesome foods to strengthen immunity and nourish your entire body. Some ideas:
- Vegetable Soup is warm & soothing and full of vitamins and minerals.
- Roasted, lean meats supply protein, iron, and other nutrients. My family’s favorite is turkey.
- Vegetables we associate with autumn are chock-full of vitamin A and other nutrients:
- Sweet Potatoes – Just bake at 450 degrees for about an hour and enjoy.
- Butternut Squash – Slice in half, scoop out the seeds, and bake flesh-down on a pan at 450 degrees for about an hour. Serve with a little butter.
- Pumpkin – I love to start out mornings with freshly-baked pumpkin muffins!
- Nuts & Seeds are filled with protein, magnesium, and other vitamins and minerals. The heart healthy benefits of many nuts have also been scientifically proven over the last couple decades. Try these ideas for adding them to your diet:
- Have a handful of roasted almonds for an afternoon snack. They’re surprisingly filling and super nutritious.
- Sprinkle chia seeds on yogurt or oatmeal for a nutrient boost.
- Grind flax seeds in the blender and stir them into yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, or use them to bake Flax Muffins, one of my families’ favorites.
- Use a food processor to make your own nut butter – it’s so easy and fast! Spread the nut butter on toast or add it to yogurt.
- Chop walnuts and add to a bowl of cereal or popcorn for extra filling-power and nutrition.
- Take roasted, lightly-salted sunflower seeds in your lunch. They’re almost irresistibly good!
- Garlic and Onions are powerful natural antibiotics & antivirals. Their immune-boosting qualities are well known even among conventional health experts. Add fresh garlic and onions to your homemade soups, chili, broth, etc. Or add onion slices to salads and sandwiches. I love to make homemade garlic butter too.
Though most fruits and vegetables aren’t in season during the winter, modern grocery stores make them accessible all year-round. We should all be grateful for this! I’ve heard it said that today, we eat better than the kings of old did.
I say this to remind you to keep eating “summer foods” like lettuce salads and smoothies through the winter.
(Unfortunately, a daily slice of pecan pie doesn’t count as a nutrient-dense food, but I won’t say anything if you have a slice on Thanksgiving and another on Christmas. 🙂 )
Tip #2 – Take Elderberry Syrup Everyday
In addition to making sure the foods you eat are nutritious and wholesome, you can give your immune system a daily boost by taking elderberry syrup everyday throughout the winter.
I can’t speak for their taste, though, because I haven’t tried any commercial brands. I prefer to make my own. It’s easy to make and uses just five ingredients – most of which you probably already have in your cabinet.
When you’re finished here, hop over to my Elderberry Syrup Recipe.
Tip #3 – Supplement with Vitamins C & D
Vitamin C to Stay Healthy All Winter
Most people know that vitamin C is essential for a healthy body and that it’s a good idea to take extra when sickness strikes.
Though the best way to get your vitamin C is through fresh fruits and vegetables, I like to take a vitamin C supplement as well. I take 500 mg each day, and if I feel myself getting sick, I up the amount to 1000 mg 2-3 times a day.
Taking vitamin C in powder form is easier for the body to absorb and avoids any fillers that may be present in pills. Or save money by getting bulk vitamin C powder to make your own capsules.
Boost Immunity with Vitamin D
Did you know that vitamin D is equally important for a healthy, functioning immune system? Along with being essential for bone health (and preventing rickets), adequate vitamin D plays an important role in the body’s immune response.
A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that those with adequate levels of vitamin D experience a reduced risk of contracting the flu.
The best way to get vitamin D is through daily sun exposure … but that can be impossible during the cloudy winter months. Furthermore, certain groups of people have a harder time converting sunshine into usable vitamin D:
- those with dark skin tones
- those who are obese
- infants not exposed to sunlight
- those in nursing homes or hospitalized
- those over the age of 61
Foods such as milk, orange juice, and cereal are typically fortified with vitamin D, but the form used for this is vitamin D2, which may not be as easily used by the body as vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), the type the body makes from sun exposure.
Foods that naturally contain vitamin D3 include:
During the winter months, I like the extra assurance of supplementing with vitamin D3. A liquid supplement – as opposed to a pill or capsule – works best and is the most easily absorbed by the body.
My favorite brand is Carlson Labs Super Daily D3. I prefer to use the 2000 IU dosage because I can give it my kids too.
You only have to take one drop each day! It really couldn’t be easier.
Tip #4 –Take Care of Your Digestive System
Holistic health care providers often say that “immunity begins in the gut.” Our digestive system is our first line of defense against many viruses, bacteria, and other germs.
Moreover, a sluggish or unhealthy digestive system affects the entire body and weakens overall immunity, making a person more susceptible even to illnesses that don’t seem to reach the gut.
Possibly the two best things anyone can do to increase digestive system health are:
- Take a daily probiotic. (Learn how to choose the right probiotic here.)
- Eat a probiotic-rich food at least every other day. These include:
- Miso Soup
- Kombucha Tea
So feel free to enjoy a small piece of a high quality dark chocolate (at least 70%) along with your daily probiotic!
Read Heal the Bowel, Heal the Body for more ways to improve your digestive health.
Tip #5 – Freshen Indoor Air
Part of why people get sick more often in the winter is that we don’t venture outside as often and we keep our homes shut tightly. Any germs we bring home are trapped inside and can breed freely in the warm indoor environment.
That’s in addition to how we’re all together in close quarters more than we are during the summer. When everyone’s cooped up together, one person sneezes and everyone’s exposed.
There are two things I like to do to help freshen up the indoor air during the winter months:
- Open a few windows whenever possible.
- Keep some houseplants around.
Opening a window just an inch or two for an hour each day can help transfer almost all of the stale indoor air for fresh outside air.
No matter how cold it gets, I try to open a window at least a few times a week. My kitchen window seems to be good for this because the room gets hot from the oven anyway.
Let Plants Do the Work
Though they can’t clean all of the air, houseplants help exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen – and having them around is certainly better for the indoor air than not having any at all. Some of my favorites to keep around are:
Need a sunny window:
- Kangaroo Palm
- Aloe Vera
- Spider Plant
- Golden Pothos (Devil’s Ivy)
Can thrive in low light:
- Mother-in-Law Tongue
Tip #6 – Get Up & Move!
Winter makes the majority of us more stationary. Anyone up for hibernating this year?
Curling up on the couch with a blanket is so nice when the snow flies, and those evening walks with the family just aren’t as much fun when it’s 20 degrees and pitch black.
But our bodies were made to move and we need some sort of exercise everyday to stay healthy and feel good.
Here are a few ideas for getting up and moving during the winter if, like me, a gym membership isn’t part of your lifestyle:
- No matter how cold it is, park at the far end of the lot when you go shopping. Put on your gloves, scarf, hat, and coat and walk the extra distance into the store. The walk will get your blood pumping and will be far better for you than staying cozy in the car for a few extra minutes.
- At home, use your stairs as exercise equipment! Either walk up and down them several times or just use the bottom stair to step up and down for about ten minutes (or longer, depending on your fitness level). I like to do this when my kids aren’t looking.
- Turn on some music and dance. If you have young kids at home, they’ll have a blast! And moving is super important for them too. If you have older kids, they’ll laugh at you – but who cares? If you’re home by yourself, you can really let loose. 🙂
- If your work requires you to sit for long periods, get up and walk around for at least five minutes every hour. This is so important to prevent blood clots and to increase your overall health.
Tip #7 – Keep Hands Clean
You’ve been hearing it since you were a kid – go wash your hands!
When I was a teen, an Oprah Winfrey episode profiled a group sampling surfaces in a variety of public places, analyzing those samples, and then explaining what they’d found.
I’ll never forget the number of places that they found fecal matter. It was found virtually everywhere! Which means that almost every time we go in public, we end up touching someone else’s fecal matter.
Aside from that most disturbing thought, it’s a well-known fact that door knobs, shopping cart handles, and other frequently-touched-by-hundreds-of-people surfaces are often contaminated with cold and flu viruses, bacteria that cause stomach bugs, and all manner of other microbes.
Are you guaranteed to be exposed to a pathogenic microbe every time you leave your house? Of course not.
But you never know when that exposure is going to happen.
How to Stay Healthy all Winter
Personally, I choose not to use the disinfecting wipes that many stores now provide near the shopping carts. These kill germs using synthetic chemicals that I believe to be more harmful in the long run than the germs I might encounter.
Instead, I try to keep my hands away from my face when I’m out running errands and I wash my hands as soon as I get home. I try to teach my kids to do the same … which is sometimes easier said than done.
For times when we can’t wash our hands, I keep a natural hand sanitizer in my purse. Just spritz it on hands, rub all over, and rest assured that any nasties you’ve picked up won’t be going home with you.
It’s super easy to make:
Easy Homemade Hand Sanitizer
Fill a 2-ounce spray bottle ¼ of the way with witch hazel. Add 10 drops cinnamon essential oil, 10 drops orange EO, and 5 drops clove EO. Fill the bottle the rest of the way with pure water (leave a little head room). Screw on the lid and shake well before each use. It smells so good!
As with any essential oils, it’s best not to use this spray on anyone with sensitive skin or on babies younger than two years old.
Tip #8 – Disinfect Surfaces Naturally
The commercial cleaning aisles are full of products that promise to kill 99.9% of germs, but I refuse to have any of that stuff in my house. With a toxic soup of ingredients that they don’t even list on the label, it’s anybody’s guess what’s actually in those brightly colored bottles.
Most cleaning products include warning labels that declare
- “May Cause Skin Irritation”
- “Avoid Contact With Eyes or Mucus Membranes”
- “Vapors Harmful”
- “Keep Out of Reach of Children”
- and other equally concerning statements.
For more about this, read How Toxic Are Your Household Cleaning Supplies? at Organic Consumers Association.
What’s the alternative?
Thankfully, homemade cleaners work just as well without any need for warning labels. I love using my homemade liquid Castile soap for cleaning all over the house.
Adding 10-20 drops of tea tree essential oil to a 16-ounce spray bottle of soap turns it into a powerful disinfectant that will kill any germs your family may have brought home.
Just spray on surfaces, wipe well, and then rinse with warm-hot water.
If you prefer not to use Castile soap, adding tea tree oil to vinegar will also work as a disinfectant. A vinegar and tea tree mixture can be sprayed on door knobs & other surfaces and allowed to dry without rinsing.
Tip #9 – Have Some Aconite on Hand
Sometimes sickness may creep in despite your best efforts. For times like this, I suggest keeping a bottle of homeopathic Aconite – also called Aconitum – on hand.
Taken at the first sign of cold or flu, aconite can often knock out the sickness before it takes hold. So when you wake up with a scratchy throat or start sneezing or coughing, grab the aconite!
Not familiar with homeopathic remedies? Read my What is Homeopathy? article.
Tip #10 – Keep “The Big Three” Cold & Flu Fighters Around
Another heavy hitter when it comes to knocking out the cold or flu before symptoms get bad is the trio of herbs, peppermint, yarrow, and elder.
If any of those getting sick symptoms start – fever, scratchy throat, body aches, sinus congestion, sneezing, coughing, etc. – first, take a dose of aconite, then put some water on to boil for a cup of “The Big Three Tea.”
Add equal parts peppermint and yarrow leaves along with elder flowers to your tea ball (or just throw them in a mug). Pour the boiling water over the herbs and steep for 10-15 minutes. Sweeten with a little honey and drink as hot as you can stand it. (Without burning your mouth, of course.)
How these herbs fight sickness
Along with strengthening the immune system, these herbs act as diaphoretics, which means that they induce sweating. This is beneficial during times of sickness because it helps the body to rid itself of germs and toxins more quickly.
These herbs are also diuretic, antiseptic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and gently stimulating – all important actions during colds, flu, or fever. (Check the Glossary if any of these terms are unfamiliar.)
According to herbalist Dr. John R. Christopher, freely drinking a hot tea made with these herbs will “break up a cold overnight or within 24 hours.”
For even better results, run a very warm bath (as warm as you can safely stand) and sit in it for 15-20 minutes. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil for its relaxing qualities. The idea is to “sweat the sickness out,” and I’ve used this method successfully for myself and my children.
Hey, it gives you an excuse to go lay in the bathtub!
Enjoy Your Winter to the Fullest
Winter isn’t my favorite season – though I have to admit that freshly-fallen snow is majestic – but it’s far more enjoyable when you’re healthy! It’s my hope that these ideas will help you enjoy this winter completely free of sickness.
Which tip will you try first?
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Christopher, John R., Dr. School of Natural Healing. Christopher Publications, Inc., 2014.
Garber, Lisa. 7 Awesome Natural Sources of Vitamin D. Natural Society. 21 October 2012.
Green, James. The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual. Crossing Press, 2000.
Stengler, Mark, ND. The Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies Medical Doctors Don’t Know. Prentice Hall Press, 2010.
The Benefits of Vitamin D. Healthline. Healthline Media, 2017.
This information has not been evaluated by the FDA and is intended only for educational purposes. It is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure disease. Always consult a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your healthcare routine.
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