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Staying Healthy in Beijing: Top Tips

August, 2011
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Most people who are new to Beijing, no matter which country they are from, have the same health concerns: How can I make my kids safe? Where can I find good food? Just how bad is the air? As a long-term expat and as a family doctor at BJU, I’ve tried to summarize the top issues that newcomers should be aware of — and how we all can stay healthy.
Acknowledge the Air Pollution, but Don’t Be Controlled by It
Yes, it’s true: Beijing’s air is among the most polluted in the world, with a daily average Air Quality Index of about 140, which likely is much higher than your home country. This may be a serious health concern if you or your children have lung or heart disease. But healthy people may also have problems on severely polluted days. I think the #1 step is to acknowledge this issue — but you should still enjoy the outdoor wonders of Beijing on the clearer days.
Buy A Bike
Beijing’s streets can be dangerous due to the growing car population sharing roadways with pedestrians, pedal bikes and electric bikes. However, I do think everyone should get a bike and use it as much as possible. Firstly, biking continues to be the most convenient mode of transport around many parts of Beijing and often may be faster than a car. Secondly, the exercise value is tremendous, and biking in Beijing’s pollution is still healthier than not exercising at all.
Take Control of Indoor Air
Many of us spend so much energy worrying about outdoor air that we forget that 90% of our time is spent indoors. Air quality indoors can often be just as bad, or worse, than it is outside. Fortunately, we have a lot more control over our homes and offices than we do over the outside world. Protect yourself indoors with well-made air purifiers, special air-scrubbing plants and proper ventilation. 
To Everything, There Is A Season
Beijing has surprising seasonal variety. Spring and fall, the best times of year here, are unfortunately short, but you can expect the same general seasonal variations you would find in New England or northern Europe. Each season has its own particular oddities:
Summer’s major health issues include an increase in gastroenteritis as well as travel-related diseases from vacations to exotic (and malaria-ridden) south Asian locales. The best way to prevent a vacation disaster is to do early research into your destination’s health status on the CDC Travel website.
Autumn is fairly mellow in terms of health issues, so you should enjoy this all-too-brief moment of perfect weather by exploring Beijing’s mountains and tourist attractions.
Winter can be monotonously cold but is usually dry with clear skies. The worst health problems usually include colds, influenza and winter depression.
Spring is a visual feast: in March we get sandstorms, and in May we have catkin pollen filling the air like snow. Sandstorms can be a health hazard to your lungs, but if you use a little common-sense you’ll be fine.
One crucial thing to remember is that Beijing may have some unique quirks related to air pollution, food, and other issues — but China shares the same #1 killer with the rest of the world: heart disease. So, Beijingers still need to focus on the basics ofmaintaining a healthy body weight, exercise, eating proper foods, and not smoking. With exercise, you should shoot for at least150 minutes a week of pulse-racing activity.
Take Care of Your Body and Soul
I see a lot of overworked patients who rarely sleep well, are totally stressed and are too busy for exercise — all of which sets them up for illness. So I feel that it’s crucial to frequently check in with our hearts and souls and ask ourselves, “Am I happy here in Beijing? Am I neglecting something or someone, including myself?” For example, we all need about eight hours of sleep, and if your lifestyle is constantly preventing that, you increase your risk for more frequent and severe infections, depression and anxiety, and long-term problems like heart disease.
I hope you find these health tips useful, and I wish you and your families a wonderful time here in Beijing. You can find many more wellness tips on my blog, myhealthbeijing.com, or contact me at the BJU Family Medicine Department at (10) 5927 7500. 
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  1. S.L
    March 6th, 2012 at 11:35 | #1

    Eat fruits before your meal.

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