The holiday season has passed and the signs of the new year is upon us. The mall parking lots are emptying and you can barely find at a spot at the local gym. Our modern commercial culture uses this time of year to encourage starting new things. Quitting smoking, getting a new car, losing weight, and other “new you” routines.
This modern way of starting the New Year puts pressure on individuals to make changes and reinvent themselves. I personally like the idea of starting the New Year with an upright and positive attitude. However, according to traditional thinking, this time of year is not the optimal time to start new things.
From my professional perspective, starting a New Year’s resolution is a challenge. My patients come to me asking what they think about a specific diet and exercise routine. In most cases, I recommend that patients start slow, and try not to make many drastic lifestyle changes at one time. The reason I believe this is primarily due to Oriental medicine’s theory of living in balance with nature.
Winter is nature’s season of hibernation. It is the peak time of year for both animal and plants to rejuvenate and restore their energy. As the cold and snow dominate our landscape, nature retreats to its roots to prepare itself for this coming spring bloom.
Late December and early January are the peak months of the winter season. Starting something that involves massive changes is not considered natural for this time of year.
The winter is the most likely season that one can get ill. Oriental medical theory recommends that one stay in concert with the season, or one can be at higher risk of getting injured or ill. In simpler terms, live with the season, not against the season.
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, they often involve large and intense modifications to one’s lifestyle. This ideology is in direct opposition to the nature of the winter months. This time of year encourages rest, recovery and even isolation. Even with the best intentions, your body and spirit will not want to cooperate with your new undertaking. The best time of year for these changes are the late winter and early spring.
All this being said, I still have patients that ask for help with their respective New Year’s resolution. I have 3 simple rules for starting a new lifestyle routine during these intense winter months:
Set simple and realistic goals:
Starting a new plan comes with an adjustment period. Your body and personal schedule will need time to get in the groove. Setting simple goals for short durations allows your body and mind to naturally shift into optimal gear.
If you start new training routines, plan only 2-3 days per week of working out. 20-40 minutes per day is more than enough to jump start the body without depleting its valuable resources. After 4 weeks of consistency, you can start to train 3-4 days per week, 60-90 minutes per day.
Eat for the season and beware of raw food.
Raw foods, from the Oriental medical nutritional perspective, are in a category of cooling foods. The “cooling” come from the moisture that is still trapped in raw vegetables and meats. It is theorized that cooling foods generally interferes the stomach acids ability to break down foods. Traditionally, cooling foods are best eaten when the warm weather offsets the cooling actions on the body. In contrast, eating cooling foods during the cold and dry seasons is frowned upon.
I recommend eating slow cooked foods during this time of year. Cooking at a low and slow heat allows for optimal nutritional release from your food. Slow cooking your foods allow for more efficient digestion. Nutrients are not always easily absorbed from foods raw forms. Eating cooked, in general, is best for your body during the winter months.
A diet of homemade soups and stews are perfect for this season. Many traditional recipes tend to include herbs with warm natures such as ginger, garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg and curries. These herbs have been proven to have anti-viral, anti-bacterial and immune boosting benefits.
In addition, root vegetables, such as yams, sweet potatoes, shallots, and carrots are great food sources during the winter months. These foods carry minerals and nutrients that are great for muscle growth, elimination and nervous tissue.
Sipping on a warm cup of tea, coffee or even hot coco is recommend as well. Staying way from cold beverages and desserts is also recommended this time of year.
Take your time to rest
Rest, recover and rejuvenate. Listen to your body and rest as much as you can during this season. Especially when starting a new exercise routine. I recommend starting slow primarily to prevent injuries and allow the body to renew itself without excessive stresses.
Instead of going out at night stay home and rest. Go to bed early in the evening and sleep in late.
This natural approach to also allows the body to shift and grow from its core. It is important to balance all output with something that can restore your reserves. This starts with the intention of recovering your energy so it may be capable of maintaining your health and wellbeing.
I always encourage my patients to be patient and extra kind to themselves this time of year. Allowing yourself the freedom to rest for a certain period of time can help to ensure the you stay healthy and strong at the time you might need it the most.