Autumn ~ Healthy choices to enhance longevity



Saying goodbye to summer and embracing the cold…

There is a basic question that Chinese medicine tries to answer with all seasonal advice.  That is “How can I adapt to a new climate without draining my reserves?”

Adapting to the change of season requires energy to be spent by our metabolism.  We may notice everyday examples like a burgeoning preference for hot chocolate over summer’s ice cream, or how our pets are napping more even though the weather is not extreme yet.  I noticed how 50 degree weather this morning made me reach for a hat and coat, but I also remember last February when a 50 degree day seemed almost t-shirt weather.  Same temperature, different metabolic setting.

The ancient physicians thought that this multitude of tiny adjustments our bodies make can be made as efficiently as possible, or not at all.  If transition happens harmoniously, less stress is incurred and we stay healthy.  Otherwise we increase the probability of getting sick or otherwise drain resources best used for healthy aging.

The details may vary a little with individual health situations, but the following are very commonly good ideas for most folk:

  • Cover up.  It’s time for long sleeves, long trousers/ dresses hats and light scarves that cover up the acupuncture points GB 20 and Du 14, 16.  Doing this now before the real cold will harmonize the “wei qi 卫气” assisting the immune system to get ready for the winter viruses.  Right now it’s better to sweat into cloth than have the wind get down to the pores.
  • Warm up the digestion.  Main meals should not be raw salad dominant, but should focus on roasted or stewed seasonal vegetables.  Curried food is pungent and warming and perfect for the seasonal change.  Stay away from chilled, iced foods.  Soup is ideal – all that ‘digestion’ on the stove is that much less energy your body has to spend on the meal’s transformation, leaving the body lighter and quicker to adapt.
  • Spend a lot of time outside.  The more you can experience the seasonal changes around you, the more your own system takes the hint.  Have you ever noticed how outdoor cats get thicker, longer lasting coats compared with indoor-only cats who shed all year round?  My cat already has her winter coat, but I’ve seen indoor cats with summer thicknesses yet.  Be an outdoor cat.
  • Catch up on your sleep.  Sleep is where the maintenance happens.  If you’ve been missing sleep, try to nap or go to bed earlier so that you make up about 1/3 of the lost sleep.  A nap is totally worth the time as an investment in your health right now.
  • Exercise to clean the Lungs.  Focus mainly on cardio, qi gong, dance or anything that calls for lots of regular, deep breathing.
  • Cultivate your inner world.  We are naturally less physically active in the colder, darker months, so it is a good idea to spend more time on things your mind enjoys.  Creative writing, music, study, politics, art – try to add a little more to your week.  This slows down ‘cabin fever’ type stresses or seasonal affective disorder, but clinically I see another advantage as well, in relation to the Chinese idea of longevity.  I treat many people in their 80’s and 90’s who feel quite bereft at how physical limitations decrease their quality of life, yet their minds are are totally fine.  Or even younger folk who are injured and can’t play the way they would prefer.  I see that those folk with a lifelong, rich connection to their inner world are healthier and more content.  If your focus all year has been on external activity, this season, start to find out what inspires you on the inside and cultivate a rich relationship with it.