As we savor the last few moments of summer, it’s time to start thinking about the crisp autumn days to come. Fall is traditionally a time of preparation. So, as farmers gather up the last of their harvest and squirrels snatch up as many acorns as possible, it’s a great time for us to prepare for cooler months and shorter days. From going back to school to getting ready for cold and flu season, maintain a healthy lifestyle for you and your family with these tips from one of Vera’s practitioners, Jennifer McGrath.

Q: What recommendations do you have for families preparing for fall and the cold and flu season?

Jennifer: Flu vaccinations would be number one. Especially with people going back to school, getting their vaccinations is always important so they can actually attend school.

Beyond vaccinations, definitely lots of handwashing to prevent the spread of colds and flus. If you’re coughing or sneezing, cough into your sleeve. You don’t want to cough into your hand and then be shaking hands with people. Also, try to remember the community. If you’re sick with a fever and you’re coughing, it’s probably best to stay home and not bring that into the work or school environment.

A lot of times people feel like they’re obligated to go to work or school, but it can have a huge negative impact on their community. If you’re sick, stay home. It’s not worth risking everybody else and spreading it.

Q: Any tips for staying healthy as the days get shorter and we get colder temperatures?

Jennifer: Staying hydrated is always important because the colder weather tends to dry you out a lot quicker. Make sure that you’re always bundled up in layers and consider simple things, like taking a headlight with you when you’re outside in the dark. Wet, slippery conditions can make it easy to fall down and hurt yourself.

Q: What about different populations? Should senior citizens and younger kids prepare for fall differently?

Jennifer: Younger and older people tend to be more prone to issues with immunity. Older people will want to make sure they have their pneumonia vaccinations. Older people should also be extra careful in fall’s wet and slippery conditions. Things like osteoporosis make their bones more brittle. Falling down can easily fracture bones and create huge medical issues. They may want to consider using ice grippers for their shoes to help prevent falls when it’s wet or icy.

Kids tend to be more vulnerable as well. Parents should make sure their vaccinations are up to date, that they’re washing their hands frequently, and that they’re staying warm. Often, younger kids don’t know how to express themselves so you may be out on a walk and they’re crying because they’re feet are cold, but they have no clear way to communicate that. So make sure everybody is bundled up before going outside in cooler fall temperatures.

Q: What about nutrition? Anything to think about as we get out of summer?

Jennifer: Definitely. Paying attention to your diet is a great way to help stave off symptoms of depression that are common when we have shorter days and less sunlight. A lot of times, as you get used to that darkness, you slip into a sort of hibernation phase where you want to eat a lot of carbohydrates. They give you quick energy, but ultimately leave you feeling really tired and unhealthy. Making sure that you’re eating a well-balanced diet can make a huge difference in your health and mood.

Vitamin D is also important. We get most of our vitamin D from the sun, so as we head into fall it becomes harder to get enough. If you’re low on vitamin D, it can affect your mood and energy levels. Consider taking a vitamin D supplement or paying more attention to getting vitamin D through the foods you eat, though it’s harder to get enough from food alone.

Q: It sounds like mental health is a big part of prepping for fall? What are some good ways to prepare for the season mentally?

Jennifer: Being active, finding hobbies that you enjoy, and doing things in groups can make a huge difference. Going to the gym or heading out on a fall hike can really help to stave off depression. It’s also important to make sure you have a good support system, whether it’s your family, friends, or an online relationship. And, take time for yourself. Check out a mindfulness app, take ten minutes to read a book you like, or get a massage. Find time for yourself to de-stress. Really, I think exercise is a huge component but obviously not everyone can exercise. If you can find other ways to interact with friends or family and stay connected, I think that makes a huge difference during the fall and winter months.

Q: Are there any common misconceptions about how we prepare for fall?

Jennifer: One thing that comes to mind are SAD [Seasonal Affective Disorder] lights. SAD lights are great because they simulate sunshine and result in the same release in serotonin that you’d normally get from sunlight. But, a common misconception is that people think they just need to be in light, any light. It’s important to know only SAD lights are beneficial.

Another thing is fall allergies. Once the rains begin again, we get late-blooming plants and mushrooms that cause allergy problems for some people. So, it’s important to be aware of that as allergy symptoms can easily resemble cold symptoms.

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