Get Healthier, And Happier, in 2011


For native Muscovites and newcomers alike, Moscow can place hurdles in the way of good health. There is the bitter cold, the stinky pollution and the sweltering heat in the summer. It can be rough. Sometimes we conclude that nothing could be made better — or worse — and give up on taking care of ourselves. Yet, spending time here also can point to simple practices that make life a lot healthier.

After colds that gave me a voice like Tom Waits, encounters with dogs that belonged on National Geographic, and subway dirt that required a wire brush, here are some pointers for surviving the winter and beyond in Moscow.

Of course, get your doctor's advice before making changes to your physical routine.

Don't eat cold foods in the a.m. Perhaps you aren't eager to fill up each morning with a bowl of kasha bigger than your head. That's OK. A cup of tea or a dish of oatmeal can go a long way in warming your commute. Babushka was right.

Cover your neck. It's vital to keep your neck swathed with a scarf or covered with a collar. That isn't just for the benefit of your skin: Warming the air in your passageways lets you breathe more easily. Your nose, mouth and throat will be less likely to pick up bacteria and viruses. This is a tip from winter runners: Even when they are breathing out icicles, they are wrapped up in scarves.

Good posture prevents pain. Many of us recoil when we hear the phrase "sit up straight." If that phrase had been "sit up straight while parked in front of your computer so you aren't in pain," it might have been less annoying and more convincing.

The Mayo Clinic in the United States explains that because the spine has three natural curves, "good posture helps maintain these natural curves, while poor posture does the opposite." In fact, when we are curled over our keyboards like Quasimodo, our muscles and ligaments "struggle" to keep us balanced, the Mayo Clinic says.

Co-workers at The Moscow Times found that their back pain disappeared when they improved their posture — in other words, when they sat level with their computer screens, pulled their shoulders back and kept their abdomen, shoulders and head in line. I tried this wonder technique for myself, and it worked. You can be sure, though, that I won't give my mom the pleasure.

Quit. Or cut back. It's difficult to tame a smoking habit in Moscow, where a pack of cigarettes costs just a buck. Compare that with the oh-so-sobering price in New York of $12 to $14 per pack, and you might even feel that you are saving money. Alas. We breathe in polluted air just by living here (even without the burning peat bogs). So be kind to your lungs.

Know how to deal with strays. If you have lived here for more than a month, you probably have encountered one of the city's stray dogs. There are about 30,000 of them. With city efforts to decrease the stray population ineffective at best, it's a good idea to get used to these homeless pups.

When you encounter a stray dog, don't panic. It is either disinterested (ideal) or interested in protecting its space (less ideal). Either way, you need to convey that you are calm and in control. If possible, avoid the dog. If a stray approaches you, stop, stand still and don't look the dog in the face. Some dog handlers suggest tucking your hands beneath your underarms, while others recommend extending an umbrella or other object to make yourself bigger. In any case, stand your ground and let the dog get bored, then find yourself another route. Dogs, 30,000; you, 1.

Go beyond potatoes. This tuberous vegetable has been a staple of the Russian diet for centuries. That doesn't mean it's great for you. While it is a source of fiber and vitamins, potatoes contain a lot of sugars, and that isn't good for human metabolism. Whole-grain foods make for a higher-energy diet. Some Russian substitutions include grechka, or buckwheat, dark breads such as Borodinsky and colorful vegetables. However, if you're thinking that potatoes are better for you than that bag of caviar-flavored potato chips, well, you're right. Nutrition is relative.

Don't hold on to the subway. That is, don't hold on to its germs once you're home. When you come in the door, take 30 seconds to wash up. You don't need to go Howard Hughes on your hands or scald your skin. It's actually the action of rubbing your hands under running water that physically removes the germs. If you're anywhere near a sink when eating lunch, then wash up before preparing food or enjoying your meal, to make sure that you don't eat the germs off your hands. And don't forget to wash up before handling contact lenses, each and every time. Sticking to these habits will save you from at least one major flu or cold this season, guaranteed.

Moscow Guide Winter 2011
Moscow Guide Winter 2011
<p>A fresh snowfall can make any street in Moscow beautiful. No matter how familiar we are with what lies underneath the snow — a smudgy kiosk, a dusty road, last year’s remont — that layer of white makes our city new.</p>
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