What happened to summer?  I hardly remember the few and far between – tee shirt and sandal – warm and lazy – sunny afternoons – appreciating the cool mountain breeze – aaahhh, those lovely summer days.

Our cabin in the woods October 1, 2013
Our cabin in the woods October 1, 2013

It seems summer is gone too soon, like it got washed away with the rains.  Once the rain let up, we had a few colorful autumn days, and suddenly it’s snowing already.  The first cold-snap of the season is always a bit shocking – not just to the foliage but to our bodies as well.  Less sunlight means less Vitamin D, so important for maintenance of bones and teeth.  Colder temperatures means your body has to work harder to stay warm – your basal metabolism actually does increase slightly in the winter.  Add to that strenuous winter sports such as shoveling snow, stacking wood, and skiing, and you are burning over three hundred more calories per hour.  (So that’s why mountain folk are so fit?)

The first hard frost also means less fresh fruits and veggies.  Canned and frozen foods contain less available nutrients such as Folic Acid, which benefits the heart and is so important for fetal development (RDI for pregnant women is 800 mg); and Vitamin K (Potassium) which helps regulate water balance and blood pressure.  The sudden change in temperature and barometric pressure can shock the system as it tries to adapt to new conditions.  It’s no wonder we tend to get sick with the cold snap, and there’s no doubt Cold Snap season is officially here.

The common cold is a contagious viral infection that causes general inflammation.  Typical ‘cold snap’ symptoms include fatigue, runny nose, headache, joint pain and depression.  Developing a cold is rarely cause to visit the doctor (unless the symptoms are prolonged, affect breathing, for the very young, the very old, and for those with compromised immune systems) – so we usually turn to our favorite over-the-counter medications or suffer through it until it clears.  Here are three simple things you can do to stay healthy and happy with the changing seasons:

  1. Eat less sugar.  Sugar lowers the body’s ability to fight infection.  Overloading your system with high Glycemic Index foods (meaning the rate at which your body metabolizes simple carbohydrates) spikes the level of sugar in your bloodstream, forcing the pancreas to react by releasing insulin.  While the pancreas is busy producing and releasing insulin to bring blood-sugar down to a safe level, it has less energy to do other important tasks such as producing enzymes that break down food molecules into nutrition your body can use.  Less nutrition means your cells are not functioning at their maximum ability, which means lowered immunity.  Sugar itself is bereft of nutritional value and, in general, should be limited.  Try whole grains, dried beans, and skipping dessert to stay strong through the cold.
  2. Sleep more.  While you are sleeping, the brain goes through a process of consolidation, which is like ‘de-fragging’ the hard drive, improving memory, creativity and mental clarity.  People who average between six and eight hours of sleep a night tend to live longer.  More sleep also increases muscle strength and stamina.  Research has also shown benefits of 10 to 20 minutes of rest in the afternoon.  If you can’t sleep during the day, try practicing corpse pose or constructive rest position (lying on your back with knees bent and arms folded around your chest).  If you get less than six hours of sleep, you may have elevated blood levels of inflammatory proteins, contributing to arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, and…making you more susceptible to cold (remember it’s an inflammatory response to a virus).
  3. Stay hydrated.  Whoever said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” must have been talking about water.  Most of us know that we lose more moisture simply breathing at higher altitudes (above 6,500’), and dehydration can become a serious problem with increased respiration in the cold, dry air.  But how many of us actually increase our fluid intake when the weather gets cooler and we are working harder to keep ourselves warm?  An average person living at sea level in a moderate climate should drink 80 ounces (8 to 10 glasses) to maintain optimal cellular function – and, no, coffee and beer don’t count!  In addition to water, you can augment your fluid intake with unsweetened fruit juice, vegetable juice, low-sodium broth, milk and herbal teas.  At the cellular level, sodium and potassium ions require water in order to transfer electrical signals throughout the nervous system.  The synovial fluid in your joints requires water to flush out toxins and keep every part of your body lubricated and moving smoothly.  The importance of staying very well hydrated cannot be stressed enough.  For us active mountain folk, we need almost 12 glasses or more a day (about 100 ounces or 3 liters).  If you are drinking less than that, chances are you are slightly dehydrated.  Symptoms of acute dehydration include fatigue, stiff and achy joints, mental dullness and forgetfulness.  In more advanced stages of chronic dehydration (taking only 1 to 2 days to set in), the symptoms include fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and exhaustion.  Sounds a lot like the cold or flu, when actually you may only be dehydrated.

When you start to feel weak, chilly, achy and stuffy, instead of going after your favorite over-the-counter medication, eat a wholesome snack, take a nap and drink a tall glass of water!  Your overall well-being will thank you for it.  Stay warm and well and “Here’s to Your Health!”

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