Are You Ready For Winter?

Winter’s chill is upon us already, and the months ahead can feel very long — but you can fight off the winter blues with a few health tips.

One major problem with Beijing’s winters is the dry air. Beijing’s extremely low humidity indoors and outdoors will dry out everyone’s skin and throats. Many of us get constantly “itchy” dry throats which causes frequent coughing. Sometimes your skin can be so dry that it becomes very itchy and almost painful. To combat this annual problem, I strongly recommend indoor humidifiers in most rooms and in your office, to keep your indoor humidity levels to a pleasant 30-50%. China’s electronics stores carry many brands, but I prefer the Yadu brand or their Westinghouse joint venture. Both have many room-size ultrasonic models. Another crucial dry skin tip is a good lotion which you should apply just after your bath and as often as you need, if your skin is still dry and cracked. You can find many adequate moisturizers at Watsons and other stores, including my favorite brand, Neutrogena. I also find that baby oil works fine as well. More severe cases can use thicker emollients such as Vaseline.

If you are outside often, it helps to use a face warmer, called a kouzhao (口罩) in China, which is worn like a mask and comes in many patterns. It nicely warms up the air you breathe in and also helps slightly with air pollution, although not nearly as well as the N95 pollution masks. The air pollution in winter can be quite severe, so it’s a good idea to have some N95 masks handy, as well as to use indoor air purifiers.

One supplement that you may consider taking this winter is vitamin D, both for yourself and your children. This crucial vitamin is usually created in your skin via sunlight, and many northerners have low levels during the winter. There are quite a lot of new studies showing benefits of vitamin D in decreasing winter colds in children and adults, as well as strengthening bones; boosting your immune system; and helping with blood pressure, diabetes and possibly cancers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 400IU of vitamin D daily for all children and adolescents, including breast-fed infants, who are more at risk of deficiency. Increasing numbers of medical groups, such as the Canadian Cancer Society, are starting to recommend that adults take 1,000 IU a day during the winter.

Winter in Beijing can be quite charming, so I encourage you to join your fellow Beijingers in their traditions of eating roasted chestnuts and roasted yams, sold on many city street corners. Both are delicious and also nutritious. Also, Beijing has many local hot springs both north and south of the city, which can really hit the spot when it’s below freezing outside. My favorite is Longxi Hot Springs Resort, one hour south of the city in Daxing.

While at home on a cold night, you can recreate the hot spring experience with a foot bath massager. It’s a wonderful, relaxing feeling to come home and soak your feet in a hot bath, add some epsom salt, and drink a warm drink with your loved ones. Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) is now available in clinic pharmacies as well as April Gourmet. All electronics stores sell many models of foot massagers, but we bought the well-regarded Kang Li Da (康立达足浴盆) brand for a much better deal via Taobao’s website.

Another great way to fight off the winter blues is to exercise; many studies show that exercise routines can boost your mood and energy and help fight off depression as well as improve sleep. Fortunately, Beijing has many indoor gyms to choose from. If the weather is right, you can also consider continuing to bike to work.

And if you feel the winter blues really getting you down and depressed, please don’t hesitate to seek help with any of the counseling and psychology staff at the expat clinics.

Follow these steps and the winter months will fly past!


This article was originally printed in my monthly column in Beijing Kids magazine. You can click here to read the rest of my “The Doc Is In” columns.

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