I see Seasonal Health as a key part of Preventive Medicine. Adapting and attuning our lifestyle to the year’s changes in the locale where we live was the subject of my first book, Staying Healthy with the Seasons, which integrates Natural, Eastern and Western medicine approaches for optimal health. My most recent book, Staying Healthy with NEW Medicine is the next octave of integrating these three valuable healing systems.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Late Summer is associated with the element of Earth and the color yellow, while the stomach and spleen are the organs that relate to this mini-season. I explore these and many other correspondences in the book and I show how to make them relevant to your own health on a day-to-day basis.
In addition to its correspondence with the transition from Summer to Autumn, the Earth Element also sits at the center and appears between each season, for 10 days either side of the Equinoxes and Solstices. These 4 periods are known as the “Doyo.”
I use this mandala to guide my Seasonal Health Plan in 5 key areas; Nutrition, Exercise, Stress, Sleep and Attitude.
The premise of eating seasonally is to re-attune ourselves to Nature, just as our ancestors lived harmoniously with what the Earth provided. The basic diet consisted of locally grown and gathered fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, beans, nut and seeds. Fish and shellfish were caught and consumed around river, lake, and coastal communities. Where possible, livestock was raised for consumption and hunters brought home wild game for their families. Thus, growing our own food and buying from local farmers are logical first steps toward seasonal eating while also investing in a more healthful future for our planet.
Two basic factors affect what foods are available to us. The first is the climate in which we live. Most of the United States has definitive seasons: cold and snow in the winter, and either hot and dry or hot and humid in the summers. The bounty of fresh foods comes from late spring into autumn. The West Coast and southern states have longer growing seasons, less dramatic seasonal changes, and thus, more available fresh foods.
The second factor affecting our dietary habits is the light and dark cycles of Nature, i.e., the amount of sunlight and darkness within a 24-hour period. These cycles influence our activity levels more than any other factors and, in this way, influence our dietary needs. Outside temperatures also affect our food intake and exercise options. The basic instinctual and commonsense aspect of eating seasonally is that we balance the external climate with our internal nutrition. Nature provides us with cooling foods, like juicy fruits and salad greens during the warmer months, while we consume more stored and concentrated foods that need to be heated/cooked during the colder months; these include rice and legumes, hard squashes, and smoked or dried meats, and generally cooked animal proteins other than for vegetarians.
Sleep may also shift with the seasons, with more day or night hours and staying cozy in our warm beds during the colder, winter months, and going out and playing/hiking in nature during the warmer times. Changing hormone levels and our aging or life cycles might also affect our sleep needs and moods. Teenagers love to sleep in, and during menopause in women, sleep can often be disturbed.
In the 40 years since I wrote and published Staying Healthy with the Seasons, I have become even more convinced of the value of this approach. So much of our health is in our own hands and attuning our lifestyle to the seasons of nature is a great first step.