The Inland Paddler: Under the Weather – Strategies for Beating The Winter Cold

Lisa Schell Columns, Health, The Inland Paddler Leave a Comment

beating the winter cold

Let me just say up front: I am not a doctor or any other medical professional. But as a paddler who trains year round, I have a vested interest in learning all I can about beating the winter cold. Or  at least trying to.  See, upper respiratory issues, for me, usually turn into bronchitis. And there is NOTHING I hate more than not feeling like I can’t breathe.  Add to that the fact I have exercise induced asthma and cold air is my biggest trigger.  And that leads back to my propensity for bronchitis.  Several years ago, pneumonia hit me hard, I didn’t rest properly and it hit me again.  It took me eight months to get my lung capacity back.

Suffice to say I learned the hard way that if you don’t rest, you end up losing more time paddling or doing the other things you love, than if you “power through.” I feel bad for friends and co-workers who have no choice but to power through because they don’t have the sick time to stay home and really take care of themselves.  Not to mention the fact that they are spreading those debilitating germs around to everyone else they meet.

Complicating the whole winter flu/cold situation for me is the fact that I am now allergic to many of the antibiotics that used to help.  Then there is the growing evidence that bugs are getting resistant to our drugs because we’ve overused them.

It’s a vicious cycle!

All of this has me looking at alternatives – alternatives that can be found in grandma’s home remedies and herbal supplements, or Native American medicine.  Really, many of the things that lead to what we now know as pharmaceuticals.  Some of them seem to be effective, some of them just make me feel better.  So, I’m passing them along because if you haven’t already come down with The Crud, you probably will, and maybe this can help. Just remember, I am not a doctor.


There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that we just cannot do without good sleep.  And a lot of it. The new Whoop activity tracker I have been using is proving to be a valuable tool in helping me realize when I really am run down and need to cut back and get to bed earlier. I am seeing how my recent lack of sleep is impacting my recovery and my performance.  And it shows me that for the last week or so, my resting heart rate has steadily been increasing.  Time to knock it off and make sleeping a priority. Hopefully that will help me not get any sicker than I am already feeling. You can track your sleep and your resting heart rate with any number of apps and devices – from your Garmin or Suunto to apps for your smart phone. Paying attention to this data is one way to get a jump on the competition – in this case, the flu!

Plant Based Medicine

These are the supplements that go beyond Vitamin C, many of which have roots in native American traditions or have been otherwise used for centuries. Like Echinacea, which can help boost the immune system enough to ward off or shorten the length of a cold in some cases. I’ve recently discovered a product called Wellness Formula  by Source Naturals, which contains echinacea, and a whole host of other herbs and vitamins and zinc and ginger.  As soon as you feel run down, you start taking this stuff – and you keep taking it every three hours.  I have had great success with this product.  I think I would have a full on, stuffed up, can’t breathe, coughing up a lung cold right now if it wasn’t for this stuff.

beating the winter cold

Other plants like sage, thyme and rosemary are said to have anti-inflammatory properties and antibacterial qualities as well.  One of my favorite things to do is make a “tea” of fresh ginger, thyme, rosemary and sage.  I throw those herbs in a sauce pan with water and bring to a boil, then let it simmer for about 20 minutes.  After that, I strain it, and add honey and lemon to taste.  Bourbon goes well with this combo too, if you are so inclined. The hot, spicy drink feels good going down, opens up the sinus and gets all those benefits on board and working.  The lemon and honey soothes a ragged throat and cough.

There are any number of herbal teas out there too that can help with breathing, sore throats and other signs and symptoms of the winter crud. And then there’s also Emergen-C, a fizzy vitamin bomb of a drink that lots of people swear by.  It has helped me too.

I learned about the way these herb can help with upper respiratory  issues by listening to an interview a couple of year ago on The People’s Pharmacy with Dr. Tieranona Low Dog.  She is a medical doctor who’s speciality is integrative medicine.  Her book Healthy at Home is a fantastic resource.

Essential Oils

beating the winter cold

Still in the plant based realm, but synthesized down to “the good stuff,” essential oils can at least make you THINK you feel better, and sometimes that’s worth the weight in gold. One concoction I am especially found of is something called Thieve’s Oil. It’s lemon, rosemary, clove and cinnamon.  It gets it’s name from the time of the Plague when a band of thieves was apparently stealing from the dead victims of the Black Death and were not getting sick.  They apparently covered their mouths and noses with cloth soaked in oil infused with these ingredients.  It can be used in place of Purell or other anti-microbial hand sanitizers, you can diffuse it and breath it in, or you can even dab a small amount of the roof of your mouth. A company called Lulu Organics even has it in a stick form for easy application.

Similarly, Baraka’s Sinus Rejuvenation Oil is worth carrying around with you this cold season.  This combination of Green myrtle, Inula graveolens, Rosemary verbenone, Eucalyptus dives, Peppermint and Spike lavender will at the very least open up clogged nasal passages. But it can help with chronic issues as well as help prevent them.  Again, I have had great anecdotal success with the product, but it may not be for everyone. You dab just a drop and apply under each nostril.

Home Remedies

beating the winter cold

Whenever I would get sick as a child, Grammy always brought out her little green jar of Mentholatum.  Not Vick’s Vap-O-Rub mind you. Nothing makes me feel better when I am full on into respiratory infection hell that to slather Mentholatum all over my chest, throat and back and get into a nice warm bed. It may or may not really do anything to help open up my passages but I feel comforted. Some people swear by rubbing the stuff on the bottoms of their feet and then putting on thick socks to cure a cough. There’s no scientific evidence on that one, but if it make you feel better, why not??

Badger Balm makes an aromatic chest rub that is almost as good as Mentholatum and doesn’t smell quite so…medicinal.  It smells good enough to carry around and use throughout the day. And guess what? It contains a lot of those same herbs I mentioned above.

beating the winter cold

I have always been a big fan of gargling with warm salt water when I have a sore throat. But my dad would always tell me that I really needed to gargle with apple cider vinegar. He swore by it.  I thought he was just kinda crazy.  Well,  recently in desperate times, I will admit to trying it.  First of all, it is so sour, seems like it really makes my nose run.  So there’s that – getting rid of all that gunk.  There is some thought that the acidity of the vinegar is not conducive to germs surviving.  Heck, I would believe that.  You can dilute it with warm water, and even add a little salt for the gargle if you like.  Somewhere up above, my daddy is smiling.

Neti Pot

beating the winter cold

This is one of the oldest things around. And perhaps one of the most ridiculous looking things to use to help those nasal passages. The Neti Pot is teapot  or gravy boat shaped with a long spout, made of either plastic or ceramic.  You fill it up with warm water , add a packet of sterile saline mix then stick that spout up one nostril and pour.  Then repeat on the other side.  You kind of have to get the hang of it – you obviously do this over the sink. Pro Tip: Breath out of your mouth.  Think of it this way, it’s like the irrigation you get when you fall off your board into the surf at the beach in the summer. Well, the principle is the same. It does help wash away all the irritants that could be causing sinus distress and salt water most certainly has healing properties. Just be careful not to over use – you can dry your nasal passages out. And keep the Neti Pot nice and clean.

Here’s a WikiHow with step by step instructions.

Again, these are just some of the things that I have come to rely on during this time of year. So far, they are working. They may or may not work for you. If you have a good home remedy to share, please let us know in the comments!

Stay healthy and paddle on, y’all!


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