Winter brings us longer nights and shorter days. More time to rest and more time spend indoors as the weather becomes cold and wet. The spaces we inhabit at work, school or home are often closed to proper ventilation, yet filled with the vestiges of whatever heat-source we are using. This ‘personal airspace’ might contain residue (including carbon monoxide) of kerosene or propane, particulate of smoke from a wood-burning stove, or high dust-levels from forced air heating. We are usually more sedentary indoors, so while our lungs are subjected to stagnant indoor air, we are also taking shallow breaths. All of these elements together can weaken our respiratory system and make us more susceptible to illnesses caused by molds/mildew, bacteria and viruses. Are there really more colds and flu viruses during the winter months or are we simply more likely to acquire them, especially if we are sharing this ‘personal airspace’ with others?

To counteract this illness-supporting scenario, we need to pay special attention to the health of our lungs, sinuses and lymph system. We must allow them to lay down their burdens so that they continue to function at their best. One of the most important ways to prevent respiratory illness is to breathe deeply of fresh air. Essentially, this can be translated as “go outside and play!” Yes, that’s it, a brisk walk, run, bike ride, cross-country ski in fresh, outdoor air has the greatest benefits to over-all health, even when air-quality is not supreme. Do this for at least 30 minutes 2-4 times a week and you will be doing yourself the favor of expelling particulate matter and lingering mucus from the bottom of the lungs (lungs go quite deep). If you are doing this in cold weather, you might find your eyes water (flushing out particulate matter and oils that adhere to the eyeball), and your nose run (same good flushing!). Best of all, you can work up a sweat that will move toxins out the pores of the skin, which relieves some burden from your kidneys and liver. Movement allows the lymph system to circulate immune cells and flush its debris, including some of those bacteria and viral critters.

Perhaps you are not able to exercise outside or exercise vigorously, that’s O.K. – do what you can! Maybe that means dancing around the house, singing or chanting, practice deep breathing, doing yoga, chi gong or hopping on mini trampoline, you get the idea. Air out your living space by opening up windows for a period of time when there is a break in the weather. If you live in an environment that is poorly ventilated, or smoke-filled, then consider getting an air-filter. If you have chlorinated tap water, get a filter for your showerhead as well as for your drinking water, since breathing in chlorinated steamy air, is one of the worst hazards for the lungs. When cleaning house, use a mask to reduce your exposure to dust and molds.

Pure, organic essential plant oils can be used to improve your air quality and deter microbes. Some of the more powerful oils in this regard are: rosemary, thyme, eucalyptus, ravensara, oregano, lemon, bay and bergamot. They can be used as air sprays (add oil drops to distilled water in a small spray bottle), on essential oil burners, or mixed into a carrier oil or lotion, and gently rubbed onto your chest. Drop at least one these oils to a hot bath or facial steam so that you breathe them deep into the lung. You can also add some of these essential oils in your household earth-friendly cleaning solutions to reduce the growth of molds and mildews. Cleaning off any mold or mildew gathered around the inside rim of your windows is a good idea too. To boost your immune system from the inside, use these oils in their whole-herb form by adding fresh or dried rosemary, oregano or thyme to your food!

Lastly, be sure to check for any leaks in your heating system and make sure all stoves, both cooking or wood-burning are properly ventilated. If you have a wood-burning stove with a flat top, you can put sprigs of rosemary, thyme or oregano in a metal pot or bowl with water in order to create a natural herbal steam. Be sure to read product ingredient labels and reduce exposure of your respiratory and immune systems to toxic chemicals in the home and on your body. This is especially true of synthetic (petroleum based) scents used in potpourris, soaps, shampoos, lotions, perfumes and candles. Switch to natural, organic and chemical-free products