The onset of cold weather brings an increased risk of respiratory infection and asks us to show greater respect for life by paying special attention to health. Fortunately, some of the most effective things we can do to maintain optimal health are relatively painless.

prevent winter illness

1. Get Plenty Of Good Sleep

Effective sleep is essential. Some considerations include the timing, the amount, the depth, and the environment. It has been said that every hour we sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight. Whether that is true or not is less important than simply getting to bed earlier in the months when it gets dark earlier. Sleep rests the adrenal glands, our stress batteries.

Deep sleep will be encouraged by avoiding late night eating, especially fats and oils, substances which give the digestive system significant work to do when we are trying to rest peacefully. Also helpful will be following a relaxing routine before bed — perhaps a warm bath, soft music, stretching, and breathing-based meditation, as opposed to activities that stimulate the mind, especially watching video screens. The room for sleeping should be humid, quiet, and as dark as possible.

2. Maintain Moderate Exercise Programs

It is important to keep up regimens of healthy body movement. Exercise supports the immune system by assisting in the circulation of body fluids and electromagnetic life force energies. Be aware that exercise expends energy, and energy is potential heat. So please keep warm, limit exercise to sessions that do not create exhaustion, and prevent your body from having to resort to the form of movement that generates heat: shivering.

3. Eat Regular, Healthy Meals & Stay Hydrated

There are particular dietary considerations when temperatures begin to drop. We will burn more calories in trying to keep warm, so that eating regularly scheduled meals becomes more important than in beach weather. Raw food enthusiasts may want to relax their disciplines and enjoy some hot, cooked meals. Drinking sufficient quantities of water is essential for keeping respiratory secretions thin and flowing to flush out microbes trying to take hold.

The quality of our food also takes on greater significance. The immune system is our body’s department of defense, and its integrity depends on both the presence of nutrients that strengthen it and the absence of non-nutritive substances that weaken it. Without going into the extensive details of food quality, there are a handful of noteworthy points to be emphasized.

4. Limit Sugar Intake

As a negative factor to avoid, the single most common influence that compromises our defense system is sugar. Sugar causes inflammation, which weakens the immune system. That is why an excessive intake of sugar contributes to the formation of most chronic illnesses. “Sugar” refers here to table sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, turbinado sugar, honey (even raw), agave syrup, coconut syrup, maple syrup, corn sweetener, dextrose, glucose, fructose, sucrose, barley malt, rice syrup, liquid cane sugar, fruit juice, and other items. Don’t be fooled by the word “organic” when it applies to sugar. Sugar is sugar, organic or not.

Small amounts of sugar in an overall healthy diet generally do not pose a problem, nor does the sugar content of fresh fruit. Also, there are a number of healthy sugar substitutes now available, including stevia, xylitol, erythritol, Lo Han (a Chinese herb marketed as Slimsweet), and others. Conventional artificial sweeteners are generally inflammatory and best avoided.

5. Eat More Nuts And Spices, Less Dairy

On the positive side, nuts and seeds are potent repositories of calories in the form of healthy fats and protein. Nuts and seeds also contain significant amounts of trace minerals, such as zinc and selenium, that empower the immune system. The single most potent source of selenium is found in Brazil nuts, while pumpkin seeds win the award for zinc content.

Because of what is known as the specific dynamic action, or thermic effect, of food, there will be some degree of bodily warmth created from eating most any food. However, onions, garlic, ginger, and black and red pepper are good ingredients to keep in mind for extra heat production.

Milk products, well-known to have a cooling effect, are best kept to a minimum. Dairy is also a common cause of excess mucus production in the respiratory passageways. It is best to leave it to our immune system to decide when to generate more mucus flow.

6. Consider Vitamin D-3 Supplementation

Nutrient supplementation may be a valuable consideration as well, though a full review of that topic is beyond the scope of this article. For immune system integrity, perhaps number one on the list is Vitamin D-3. A simple blood test will tell us if we are among the many whose D-3 levels are insufficient, and for those who take supplemental Vitamin D-3, an extra 1-3 milligrams of Vitamin K-2 need to be added as well.

7. Peroxide Inhalation Therapy

A potent warrior against winter illness is what I have come to call the “PIT” bull of respiratory infection fighters: Peroxide Inhalation Therapy. This is a simple technique of breathing in mist from a solution of water and hydrogen peroxide. In my medical practice I commonly write prescriptions for a device called a nebulizer, a machine that converts a liquid into a mist that is inhaled through a breathing mask.

A second way of performing this therapy is to use a personal sinus steaming device purchased over-the-counter in pharmacies. Only a small amount of hydrogen peroxide is necessary, on the order of one teaspoonful per four ounces of water.

And finally, there is the stovetop steam tent method. You can position your head face down over a pot of hot water and peroxide — about 3 ounces of peroxide per quart of water — with a towel draped over both your head and the pot, while being careful not to burn your face or the towel. To spend 10-15 minutes each morning and evening breathing in dilute peroxide mist may just make the difference between catching and avoiding a cold weather infection.

8. Recruit The Mind

As a final part of our strategy, it is wise to acknowledge the crucial role the mind plays in avoiding illness. The strength of the immune system is a product just as much of our attitude as of our investments in physical care. Entering the cold weather season might be thought of in the way an athlete thinks about taking the field or a performing artist thinks about taking the stage. It’s a time to gear up and enjoy both the challenge of life and the beauty of an essential part of our annual cycle.