Another week, another pesky cold? If it feels like you’re entire office – and family – have been knocked for six week after week, you can thank sickness szn.
From sickness bugs to flu, it’s a sad reality that viruses transmit most efficiently in drier, colder conditions, which is probably why you can’t stop sneezing right now.
Feel like your immune system has taken a battering, you’re constantly run down and picking up bug after bug, you can blame Covid and the lockdown era that we’re all desperately trying to pretend never happened. As well as wreaking havoc with our careers, finances and social lives, a weakened immune system is yet another hangover of the pandemic. So what can we do about it? Thankfully, there are 5 simple health hacks you can implement today to boost your chances against sick season.
We called on wellness guru, Ada Ooi, who has practised Chinese Medicine and Aesthetics for over 15 years. An accredited member of the Acupuncture Society and NADA, she specialises in skin, integrated health, endocrinology and fertility. Ada grew up helping her grandfather treat cases using Chinese and Western medicine in the family pharmacy in Macau, humbly continuing his legacy combining medicine and therapeutic modalities taken from the best of both the East and the West, she treats at her London Harley Street clinic and is in-demand across the globe (just ask Ellie Goulding and Emma Mackey who have her on speed dial). Here are her five essential wellness hacks to arm yourself with now to protect your immunity this winter…
Ada explains that in TCM, Autumn is a time where it’s essential to nourish the lungs as this is considered to be the organ most affected by pathogens, which in TCM includes not only bacterial and viral infections but also Heat, Cold, Damp and Wind elements. “For example, Damp air can make breathing difficult, Cold wind can take your breath away and make your nose stream whilst Heat can dry the mucus lining in the nose and then dry the Lungs, leading to a dry cough,” she explains.
According to TCM, the lungs circulate a specific type of Qi called Wei Qi (Defensive Qi) to protect the body from external pathogens. A lack of Wei Qi means that immunity will be impacted, so it’s very important to nourish the lungs at this time of year to prevent illness. So how can we do that”?
“Chinese medicine advocates eating seasonal fruit and vegetables as nature provides the foods that help us deal with each season; warming foods in winter, cooling foods in summer, nourishing foods in autumn and food to support the liver in spring when we become more energetic.”
Warm, light-coloured fruit and veg are considered to be beneficial for the lungs, so think onions, carrots, cauliflower, leeks, sweet potatoes, asparagus, white mushrooms, turnips, radish, apples, pears, garlic and ginger. Avoid eating sugar and dairy in excess, as well as very cold foods and iced drinks, opting for more warming, soothing foods instead.
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Not only is massage pretty damn blissful but it also stimulates microcirculation, bringing blood to the area massaged, which is great for our immune system. As Ada explains: “Enhanced blood circulation not only carries oxygen and nutrients to replenish cells, but brings an increase in white blood cell counts responsible for fighting infection and diseases, improving immunity.”
If you don’t have the funds to see an expert (COLC, we see you), you can do lymphatic massage on yourself. “Use the flats of your hands instead of your fingertips; this allows more contact with the skin to stimulate the lymph vessels. Use a light pressure and keep your hands soft and relaxed to gently stretch the skin as far as it naturally goes and then release. You can use a larger gua sha tool such as the 001 Microsculptor No.3 to go over the lymphatic pathway gently to enhance the result,” suggests Ada.
This has to be the oldest hack in the book but going to bed before 11pm will ensure you get the most benefits out of sleep, because according to TCM, 11pm to 3am is when the gallbladder and liver systems are the most active. Who knew? “During this period, bodily repair and regeneration happens to prepare the body for activity the next day,” says Ada. “Allowing your body to rest properly is essential to maintaining strong immunity as a lack of good quality sleep disturbs regulation of key chemicals produced by the immune system to fight infection.”
It’s a super simple tip but keep the area at the back of your neck covered by wearing a scarf or high-neck jumper, especially when outside or when exposed to drafts this season. Why? The area just below where the neck meets the top of the back is important in TCM as they protect our immune system, but they are also susceptible to cold air and water, so it’s essential to protect this area against cold, wind or damp weather, to prevent illness. “This is the time of year to eat and drink warm, cooked foods that are easier for digestion to conserve your energy, which will help you to fight colds in winter,” says Ada. “If you love a salad, add warming spices like ginger and turmeric, or have a cup of herbal tea first to help your body aid digestion, as cold and raw foods require more energy in the digestion process.”
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“Often we end up sitting for prolonged periods, and being slumped at a desk all day can really restrict air flow in and out of the lungs,” says Ada – and I know I am certainly guilty of that. That’s why she swears by breathing exercises a couple of times a day help to ensure that any stagnant air in the lungs is expelled and replaced with oxygen-rich air which will boost blood flow and enhance immunity.
“An easy daily exercise is to place your hands gently on the area of your abdomen just below your belly button, which in Chinese Medicine is called the lower Dan Tian. Take a deep breath in through the nose for 5 counts, hold your breath for 4 seconds, then breathe out through your mouth for 8 counts. Focus on your abdomen rising with the inhale and decreasing with the exhale, and squeeze the lower abdomen in as you exhale the last bit of breath to clear any air in the lungs. Repeat 5 times a few times a day to cleanse and re-energise, and if you’re sat down for long periods, set reminders to make sure you’re stretching and breathing.”
Noted! Godspeed this cold season, everyone.
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