The middle of winter in Melbourne is the height of cold and flu season, and here in the clinic we start seeing lots of patients reporting that they are feeling generally rundown. At this time of the year you may be asking yourself: Apart from coming in for regular acupuncture to keep your immune system strong, is there anything else you can do to ward off the sniffles?
What is a common cold?
The common cold is a viral infection that affects the nose, throat, and upper airways. Symptoms can include the obvious like coughing, sneezing, a blocked or runny nose and general congestion, through to fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and pains, and fatigue. There are over 200 different viruses that can cause the common cold, so it is possible to have one straight after the other if they have been caused by a different virus.
In the current climate of restrictions and social distancing, it is more important than ever to get on top of symptoms before they start to impact your ability to socialise or go to your workplace. Here are a few ways to give your body the best chance of fighting off a cold.
The easy stuff
The best things that you can do to keep a cold or flu at bay are all common sense, but can be easily forgotten (and often challenging to implement!) in our busy lives. The first thing to do is go to bed earlier and get a good night’s sleep. There has been found to be a direct relationship between the amount of sleep a person gets and the chance they have of catching the common cold. So trying to get at least 7 hours sleep a night can have a big effect on your immunity. Meditation, reducing screen time before bed and avoiding caffeine can all aide you in getting the good quality sleep that your need. Feeling stressed? That can impact your sleep as well. Check out my blog post on the relationship between stress and sleep here (link to “Why stress affects your sleep” blog).
Prioritising daily movement should also be on your to-do list during winter. Obviously keeping out of the rain and wind is going to help you keep healthy, but still making sure you get in some exercise will have a beneficial effect on your immune system. Regular exercise helps to improve immune regulation, and getting out for some moderate exercise a few times a week has been found to reduce the risk of getting ill. The flip side of this is that overtraining, especially in the winter months when we are naturally more inclined to wind things back a bit, has been found to increase the risk of getting sick. As always, let your body guide you.
Another way that you can help to protect yourself through the winter months is through your diet. Winter is a good time to get your fill of more warming and nourishing foods. Think slow cooked stews, roasted root vegetables, and hearty soups. Avoid cold salads and sandwiches, stick to having warm foods and drinks instead.
In Chinese medicine there are some foods though that are particularly good for fighting off colds. Warm, spicy and pungent foods help to protect the immune system – ginger, spring onion, chilli, peppermint or mulberry leaf can all be used, especially in the early stages of a cough and cold.
My go-to during these cooler months, when I’m feeling a bit rundown, is a ginger and lemon tea. Slice up a good inch of ginger (leave the skin on) and half a lemon. Pop them in a small pot with about a litre of cold water and bring up to a low simmer for 15 minutes. Drink it hot with a little honey, or sip it all day at room temperature. Enjoy!
Nieman , D. & Wentz, L. (2019). The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 8(2019), 201-217.
Prather, A, Janicki-Deverts, D., Hall, M. & Cohen, S. (2015). Behaviourally assessed sleep and susceptibility to the common cold. Sleep, 38(9), 1353-1359.