BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – With the onset of the flu season and in light of recent fears of a possible influenza pandemic, may people may wonder how they can stay healthy this winter. There are several approaches to maintaining good health in bad weather, and the field of acupuncture and Oriental medicine provides some tried and true steps that can go a long way towards preventing illness.

Many people talk about the flu "going around" as though it infected everyone in its path. The reality is that only a portion of those exposed to a virus get sick. This is because one of the biggest factors is the internal environment of the body. Germs only lead to illness when the body is out of balance and immunity is weakened.

Practicing good health habits can help prevent the flu, says Mark McKenzie, MaOM, LAc, dean of the Minnesota College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minn. Acupuncture, which can be traced back to China more than 2,500 years, seeks to correct imbalances in the body’s energy systems. Acupuncture recognizes that this qi (pronounced "chee") energy needs to flow freely, enhancing the body’s natural healing. Combined with other healthful behaviors, traditional Chinese medicine can help prevent illness.

McKenzie recommends these five tips for avoiding illness this flu season:

– Avoid germs. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Wash your hands often to help protect yourself from germs. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

– Warmth. Keep your neck and chest protected from wind, drafts and cold. The Oriental medical perspective is that wind invasions make people more vulnerable to developing colds and flu. Keep your feet warm and dry.

– Acupuncture. Get a treatment to boost your immune system.

– Relax and sleep enough. Your immune system is susceptible to stress. Use any stress-reduction methods (like yoga, massage or meditation) to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

– Eat and exercise less. Avoid simple sugars (processed food and baked goods, alcohol, etc.). Choosing less acidic foods raises the body’s pH and makes you less susceptible. Exercise lightly and daily. You don’t want to go outside being overheated.

Even if you obtain a flu vaccine, it’s still a good idea to consider these steps, for they are common-sense ways of keeping your immune system strong. When you are well-rested and robust, you are in good shape for confronting illness, whether it is the flu or the common cold.

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