Living simply is about living naturally — living in harmony with nature, protecting nature, remembering we’re part of nature. And so, as we struggle to stay healthy during the winter, it’s helpful to see how natural approaches can help.

Let me mention a a few natural remedies — beyond washing our hands and covering our mouths.

Let’s start with water. Use salt water in a netti pot to irrigate your nasal membranes and use salt water to gargle. Every night. Next, keep your self hydrated! Drink lots of water and humidify your air. We always have a humidifier running, and of course you can simmer water on the stove. Keep your heat low to avoid drying out! (And save energy for Nature’s sake.)

Next, stay home when you’re sick! I shouldn’t have to say this, but we need to keep saying it until it becomes a cultural mandate. You’d think that employers would see that liberal sick leave policies would boost productivity with fewer absentees and healthier workers. Unfortunately we’re one of the few countries that doesn’t have a national policy giving people sick leave.

The sick leave issue illustrates a major problem: many of the health issues require more than individual behavior change. They demand enlightened national policies. ( See For instance, getting enough sleep is crucial to your health, but our long work hours make that difficult. And naps! There’s lots of research showing that naps are good for you, but who can take a nap at work? But do what you can. Maybe at lunch hour go out to your car and put the seat back for a few minutes.

Health requires even deeper changes, though. These are explored in a new book by Don Buettner called Thrive, (author of The Blue Zones). Buettner did a study for National Geographic on the secrets of people around the world who live long lives. He explores four categories: move naturally, eat wisely, right attitude, and connect.

Move naturally. For me, there’s nothing like walking! There are so many benefits — it’s good exercise, good for the planet (you’ll drive less); it costs nothing, and it can build community as you chat with friends and neighbors. And maybe most important of all, it gives us time to reflect, to make conscious choices instead of being manipulated by social pressure or marketing.

Eat wisely. This is huge! (Pardon the pun — a third of American adults are considered obese.) There are really five words that are important here: Eat more fruits and vegetables! (A juicer makes a nice Christmas gift. Juicing is an easy way to consume more fruits and vegetables.) Another idea I’ve heard a lot about lately is the “80% rule:” Quit eating before you’re full. This is practiced by most of the long lived populations.

Again, eating wisely is not just about individual choice. Corporations add chemicals to our food; are cruel to the animals they raise for food, and genetically modify our plants — among other abuses. We need national policies to protect us, but in the mean time, go to our wonderful farmers markets and eat organic!

Of course we must move away from highly processed food and cook more for ourselves. Obviously time for healthy eating is also linked to the issue of work hours: Long work days makes cooking dinner more difficult. Still, you can bring out the old crock pot and cook up something on the weekend to eat during the week!

Connect and Right Attitude: There is one thing that is more important than anything else — building social ties. So get together with friends for an evening of conversation and laughter, giving you both a right attitude and connection! Of course the biggest predictor for the health of a nation is the wealth gap, and our health continues to decline as our gap widens. Here’s where you need to get politically involved. .

Natural health is really an exciting topic. Educate yourself on approaches to natural medicine like homeopathy, osteopathy, or acupuncture. Seattle is lucky to have Bastyr University, a school that not only trains practitioners, but has a clinic and pharmacy. There’s a great supply of both products and information at the Puget Consumer Coop. Finally, subscribe to magazines like YES that will help you continue to explore how we can build a culture that cares about the health and well being of both people and the planet.

Cecile Andrews is the author of Less is More, Slow is Beautiful, and Circle of Simplicity