Adam Miramon, M.O.M., Dipl.Ac., L.Ac., Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist

Staying Healthy During Cold Season

When the weather begins to shift during the fall season, many of us become susceptible to a variety of illnesses including the common cold. Our susceptibility may be due to a number of reasons such as an inability to handle changes in weather, being sensitive to cooler temperatures, a weak immune system, or a host of other reasons. However, even those who do not fall into these categories may come down with some form of seasonal illness. Following are several keys to staying healthy when the weather shifts.

  • Know your body
  • Rest, Rest, Rest
  • Hydrate
  • Exercise regularly
  • Cover your neck
  • Recognize cold symptoms

Before we can interpret the keys to staying healthy, we have to understand some of the basic concepts of Chinese medicine. Allopathic (aka western medicine) practitioners have a different theoretic approach to colds and flus than that of a Chinese medical practitioner. In the west, colds and flus are attributed to bacterium or viruses. Treatment entails over the counter or prescription medication to provide symptomatic relief such as stuffy nose, headache, fever, nausea, etc. There is little that can be done to speed up recovery or prevent the onset of seasonal illnesses. Even though the symptoms patients feel are the same, an acupuncturist will approach a seasonal illness in terms of yin, yang, wind, cold, heat, damp, rebellious Qi, etc. Using these terms, the common cold could be due to wind-cold or the flu might be a combination of wind and rebellious Qi. The key is in the evaluation of a patient’s symptoms and utilization of physical diagnostics to assess how to approach treatment. They employ techniques such as acupuncture, Chinese herbal supplements or teas, cupping (vacuum cups placed on the skin), gua sha (skin scrapping), moxabustion, etc. These techniques help to activate the body’s natural defense system to push the illness out of the body. Dependind on the symptoms and diagnostics, an illness may be referred to as an “external pathogenic factor.” The duration of a cold or illness can even be shortened or the severity of symptoms minimized if it is caught within a certain timeframe.

Know Your Body

Body awareness is a vital component in being able to prevent illness or to take necessary steps in expediting recovery. A knowledge of one’s own body includes an internal feeling of temperature, an awareness of one’s own aches and pains, ease of breathing, typical digestive sensitivities, or a sense of feeling centered. Being aware of what is normal for you as an individual is important because it empowers you to know when your body out of balance and may be fighting off an illness. If you are able to recognize the signs and symptoms of illness, you are able to take the necessary precautions to either abate the illness or speed recovery.

Rest, Rest, Rest

Staying healthy requires the ability to get plenty of rest. From a Chinese medical perspective, rest is more than how many hours of sleep someone receives every night. Rest includes quality of sleep, the ability to have down time, and the ability to quiet the thoughts of the mind. If someone is sleeping 8 hours every night, but they wake every 2 hours to urinate, their quality of sleep is affecting their ability to obtain the rest needed to maintain the body’s defenses. Another important factor of rest is the concept of down time. In American society, we are always on the go with work, socializing, exercising, or any number of activities to keep ourselves busy. Many of us are inexperienced at planning times of inactivity. The key here is in discovering or developing practices that do not heavily engage the mind or body. This period of inactivity could take the form of meditation or taking naps. Quieting the mind can be one of the most difficult tools to develop because many of us have become accustomed to our own thoughts. One of the most effective ways to quiet the mind is journaling. By taking our random thoughts and writing them down on paper, we are able to get the thoughts out of our head and create the space for our mind to rest.


Hydration is vital for the body to be able to move fluids and flush systems. When the body becomes dehydrated, it is unable to flush pathogens or move clean fluids effectively. Two components of proper hydration are ensuring the intake of enough water and electrolytes. Many theories exist about the amount of water required to properly hydrate the body (i.e. 8 ounces 8 times per day or a percentage of an ounce per pound of body weight depending on your activity level, etc.). However, one of the best ways requires absolutely no calculations – only an observation after urination. In general, your body is adequately hydrated if your urine is clear or pale yellow. Therefore, you should continue to keep consuming enough fluids to maintain your hydration level. If your urine is dark yellow or brown, then your body is requiring more water and/or electrolytes than you are currently consuming. Some vitamins and medications can affect urine color, so it is important to be aware of this fact when examining your urine (i.e. vitamin B causes the urine to become a neon yellow).

In addition, we consume a number of diuretics as a society which forces our bodies to eliminate much needed water or fluids. These everyday food products include coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, etc. In Chinese medicine, some practitioners may recommend that you ingest an additional 8 ounces of water for every 8 ounces of one of these caffeinated drinks to prevent the loss of fluids.

Exercise Regularly

Regular physical activity helps to maintain the body’s defenses. The concept is that by continually exposing the body to physical stress it is more readily able to protect itself. In fact, regular exercise does not have to consist of a strenuous body building program, training for a marathon, or training to swim the English Channel. The exercise needs to be enough to challenge your own physical limitations and increase your heart rate. In general, this means some form of physical activity for 30 to 60 minutes 3 times per week. The activity could be walking, basketball, tennis, hiking, kayaking, running, etc. Staying physically active while experiencing a cold may help to speed recovery, reduce the severity of symptoms, or provide a sense of normalcy while feeling miserable.

Cover Your Neck

From a Chinese medical perspective, the back of the neck and head are the most sensitive to cool or windy weather. Therefore, preventing cold air or wind from hitting the back of your neck and head will help to keep you healthy as the weather changes. Although this may seem like an odd concept in the western world, the back of the head and neck is a key entry point for pathogens in Chinese medicine. Covering up the neck can prevent such an invasion especially when the weather is shifting between warm and cool weather. Scarves and hoodies are great for covering up, and they provide enough warmth when warm days turn into cool nights.

Recognize Cold Symptoms

The final key to minimize symptom severity or expedite recovery is early recognition of the cold symptoms. In Chinese medicine, there are many tools at a practitioner’s disposal to help minimize symptoms or expedite recovery. Common treatments for colds and flus include certain acupuncture techniques, herbal supplements, and a therapy called cupping. Although an acupuncturist cannot guarantee an abatement of a cold or flu, many patients experience less severe symptoms or a shorter duration of symptoms if the cold or flu is caught within 24 hours of the onset.

An awareness of one’s own body will empower you to notice the onset of an illness sooner, thereby allowing you to seek treatment. Symptoms to be aware of are cold sensations on the back of the neck/head, stiff neck, sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, feeling hot or cold, chills, headache, slight aches and pains, or slight nausea. If any of these symptoms appear, it is possible you may be developing a seasonal illness, and it is a critical time to schedule an appointment with your Chinese medical practitioner. As mentioned before, the key is receiving an acupuncture treatment within the first 24 hours of the onset of these symptoms.

Everyone has the ability to stay healthy during cold season. By making conscious efforts early in the season to prevent illness, one is able to reduce or minimize their susceptibility to illness. However, prevention is only one step on the path of a healthy cold season. The suggestions offered in this article are added tools for the path. Most importantly, seeking appropriate holistic or medical treatment will further strengthen your success of staying healthy during the cold season.