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Back to School Tips for Staying Healthy All Year

Summer is drawing to a close and the change of season is just around the corner.  From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, during the transition between seasons, the immune system is further taxed and providing extra support can be the key to staying healthy through these periods and into the cold and flu season.  TCM says that shifting seasonal energies cause shifts in the body and can increase susceptibility to pathogens.  Not only does the seasonal change itself have an impact on the body, but for students and teachers, the increased exposure to pathogens puts these groups at greater risk for picking up some of those nasty “back to school bugs.”  The following are some suggestions for staying healthy through the change of season and the school year.

Establish Healthy Routines

Limit Screen Time:  There has been a lot of new research in this area and as much as tablets, laptops and other technologies have propelled society and enhanced the classroom, too much screen time can have a negative impact on health.

  • Studies have found a correlation between screen time over 2 hours/week and increased body mass index in preschoolers. 
  • Screen time in the evening can lessen sleep quality in both children and adults. The blue light emitted from screens has a negative effect on melatonin production.

Set a sleep routine:  Everyone knows how important sleep is.  It can sometimes be difficult for students to transition from the sleep habits of summer to the early mornings of the school year.

  • Having a routine involving a set bed time for both children and adults will improve quality and quantity of sleep.
  • The bedroom is for sleep. Avoid watching television and reading in bed, as this can make it more difficult to fall asleep as well as effect quality of sleep.
  • Remember school aged children need 9-12 hours of sleep per night, teens require 8-10 hours and adults require 7 or more hours.

Time in nature: After the summer holidays, our schedules can become packed with school events and extracurricular activities.  Even when our schedules become busy, it is still important to find some time to enjoy nature.

  • 50% of society lives in urban settings and this number will rise to 70% by 2050.
  • One study tracked 10,000 people over 20 years and found a positive correlation between increased overall health and well-being and living in close proximity to greenspace.
  • If you live in an urban area, find some green space near your home or office. 20 minutes per day in nature can positively affect both mental and physical health.

Exercise: It is common knowledge that exercise is beneficial for both mental and physical health.  For students, it can also improve academic performance.

  • Studies have found that aerobic activity improves cognition, academic achievement, behaviour and psychosocial functioning as well as helps to maintain a healthy body weight, prevent diabetes and cardiovascular illness.
  • Set an exercise goal that is achievable! If you do not exercise at all right now, it is likely not realistic to set a goal of 30 minutes per day.  Make a sustainable plan.

Healthy Eating:  When things become more hectic and families are on the go, sometimes maintaining a healthy diet can be put on the back burner. Here are some suggestions to keep things on track throughout the year.

  • Eat at the table. Studies have found an association between unhealthy diets and television watching among children. Further, television watching results in greater food intake.
  • Keep it simple. With so many fad diets out there, it is hard to know what is right.  The “healthy plate” idea is easy to follow and is always a healthful meal.  The plate shou ld be ½ vegetables, ¼ lean protein, ¼ complex carbohydrate (can be more veggies or brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato, etc.).
  • When grocery shopping for lunches, shop the perimeter of the store. The perimeter contains whole foods like fruits and vegetables, whereas the middle aisles are full of sugar laden and overly processed snacks.
  • Pack water for lunches instead of juice boxes or other sugary drinks.

Immune Support Supplements:  Aside from diet and lifestyle, there are some nutrients we can take to support immune function throughout the year.

Vitamin C: When you feel a cold coming on, reach for some vitamin C.  Studies suggest that Vitamin C supplementation may reduce the duration of cold symptoms by 1-1.5 days.

Vitamin D:  For those who live in northern climates, Vitamin D levels can dip in the winter months when sun exposure is less.  Studies show that children who supplement with Vitamin D through the winter have less frequent upper respiratory tract infections (URTI).  For adults, taking Vitamin D was found to reduce the risk of an URTI by 12% and for those who had very low levels of vitamin D, it reduced the odds of an infection by 42%.

Probiotics:  These microorganisms are extremely important for staying healthy; not only do they aid in nutrient absorption, but they are also a vital part of our immunity.  Probiotic supplementation will support and restore a healthy microbiome which is involved in immune cell production and disease prevention.

Traditional Chinese Medicine: In TCM, food is medicine.  Different foods and herbs have different qualities and healing properties and it is recommended to eat certain foods and take different herbs during different seasons. Traditional Chinese Medicine is about creating balance. When the weather begins to get colder, TCM recommends eating more cooked food and less raw food.  During the fall season, more sour foods are also recommended. 

During the transition from summer to fall and fall to winter, TCM Change of Season Soup (recipe below) is a delicious way to help support the immune system and move through the seasons in optimal health.

Change of Season Soup

Astragalus membranaceus/ Huang Qi- 4 sticks, 15 cm long

Codonopsis pilosula/ Dang Shen- 3 sticks, 10 cm long

Dioscorea sinenesis/ Shan Yaeo- 2 sticks, 5cm long

Lyciium barbarum/ Gou Qi Zi- 3 tbsp

Fill a large pot with water.  Add herbs to boiling water.  Cover and reduce heat.  Simmer for 3 hours.  Strain herbs from broth.  This broth can be used as a base in your favourite soup, like chicken or vegetable.


Bratman GN, Hamilton JP, Hahn KS, et al. (2015).  Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2015;112(28): 8567-8572. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1510459112

Braude L, Stevenson RJ. (2014). Watching television while eating increases energy intake. Examining the mechanisms in female participants. Appetite. 2014;76(5): 9-16.  DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.01.005

Hemerajata P, Versalovic J. (2013). Effects of probiotics on gut microbiota: mechanisms of intestinal immunomodulation and neuromodulation.  Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology. 2013 Jan; 6(1): 39-51. DOI: 10.1177/1756283X12459294

Kabali HK, Irigoyen MM, Nunez-Davis R, et al. (2015). Exposure and use of mobile devices by young children. Pediatrics. 2015;136(6):1044–1050. DOI:10.1542/peds.2015-2151

Lees C, Hopkins J. (2013). Effect of Aerobic Exercise on Cognition, Academic Achievement, and Psychosocial Function in Children: A Systematic Review of Randomized Control Trials. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2013;10(E174). DOI: 10.5888/pcd10.120010

Liang T, Kuhle S, Veugelers PJ. (2009). Nutrition and body weights of Canadian children watching television and eating while watching television. Public Health Nutrition. 2009; 12(12): 2457-2463. DOI:10.1017/S1368980009005564

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Dr. Jennifer Marion ND

About The Author

Dr. Jennifer Marion, ND is a graduate of CCNM and a member of OAND. She treats patients with a variety of health issues and is passionate about helping her patients both look and feel their best by addressing the causes of health issues rather than simply treating or suppressing symptoms. Dr. Marion has experience working with digestive wellness, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, weight loss, and detoxification programs, pain management, sports injuries, hormone imbalances, clinical nutrition, supplementation, lifestyle counselling, blood sugar balance, stress, anxiety, depression, skin conditions as well as cosmetic enhancements.

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