Seasonal Changes: How to Maintain Physical & Mental Balance

Dr. Robert Graham | The Upside blog by

by | Updated: November 3rd, 2021 | Read time: 5 minutes

The ancient traditional medicine practice and wisdom of Ayurveda reminds us we are part of the natural world. As the natural world changes according to the seasons, so should we.  Ayurveda teaches us we are part of the same ecology; the body is greatly influenced by the external environment.

Woman Standing in Meadow, Gazing Toward the Sun with Eyes Closed Feeling Content and Balanced | supports living and eating with the seasons as an essential component to health, well-being and disease prevention. This concept is known as ritucharya.

“Ritu, the season, classified by different features expresses different effects on the body as well as the environment. Ayurveda has depicted various rules and regimens (Charya), regarding diet and behavior to acclimatize seasonal enforcement easily without altering body homeostasis,” researcher Jayesh Thakkar says.

Prevention of disease to maintain health is the first and foremost aim of Ayurveda. Prevention can be achieved by changing with the seasons, including your diet and lifestyle practices.

Sadly, many of the diseases that affect our society today like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, arthritis and depression are directly related to the lifestyles we live. The good news is our lifestyles are modifiable if we adopt an understanding of lifestyle as medicine.

Put F.R.E.S.H into action

When it comes to medicine, we need a FRESH approach: “Let lifestyle be thy medicine.” FRESH is an acronym for our five ingredients in the recipe/prescription to health:

  1. Food
  2. Relaxation
  3. Exercise
  4. Sleep
  5. Happiness

Allow these recommendations to serve as prescriptions for diet and lifestyle changes throughout the year. Adapting to the changes, is the key for survival, the knowledge of ritucharya is so important. Let’s focus on the simple FRESH recipe (Rx) for the fall (autumn) season.


Eat more plants. According to Ayurvedic principles, diet should adapt as the seasons change to allow the body to get the specific nutrients it needs to thrive in a changing climate.

In culinary school we learn that meals just don’t happen, they are created, and that’s why we suggest a strategy or meal plan. As a rule of thumb, eat seasonally as much as possible – Mother Nature knows what she’s doing! Eating seasonally means choosing the foods that are naturally available to you. Click here for a list and design a meal plan that reflects what’s available now.

How to enjoy fall fruits & veggies:

  • Cooking root vegetables, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, parsnips, turnips, carrots and/or beets? Simply add little salt, pepper, EVOO, fresh herbs, such as sage, thyme and rosemary, and roast for 30-45 minutes.
  • Eat seasonal greens like collards, arugula, kale and Brussels sprouts.
  • Enjoy the fruits of the season: pomegranates, apples, cranberries, pears and grapes.


Relax 10 minutes per day. The demands and stress of daily life are taking a huge toll on us. We are over-busy – doing, going and buying stuff. Unless we prioritize taking time to relax, we can quickly find ourselves overscheduled, exhausted and burnt out.

Relaxation is the medicine we need to balance, reset and refresh our minds and bodies. We all have an inherent relaxation response. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, many of us don’t even know it. A change in seasons is the perfect time to invite some relaxation into your daily life.

  • Breathe, pray or practice some type of meditation. The best part: it’s portable and available to you at any time. Try it for 10 minutes per day – because it takes 10 minutes to tap into your relaxation response.
  • Sometimes you just have to remove yourself from the world and your screen (TV, phone, computer) for a while in order to relax and not stress about the little things.
  • Just be: Live in the moment! Choose to spend more of your day and time in the present moment. After all, it’s all you’ve got control over.


Move 30 minutes a day. For many of us, especially in the northern part of the US, the shift from summer to fall is a great time to check in with yourself. Take stock of your current fitness level and set SMART goals for the next few months. This time of year, we often move indoors to exercise. Here are simple things that we can still do keep it moving.

  • Try to aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. Start with 15-minute walk in one direction, turn around and walk back. Then, add five minutes per week to your routine. Remember the CDC recommends 150 minutes of exercise each week
  • Before the weather gets too cold,get outside. Plan weekend activities that get you moving like hiking, walking or taking a bike ride. If you live in a city, walk to lunch or dinner. You will get your workout in while you enjoy leisure time with people you love.
  • If you have a hard time getting started, pick an activity, a sport (hiking, biking) you haven’t done before. The novelty will keep things interesting while you work toward making it a habit. It will also make moving your body fun again and motivate you to make fitness even more of a priority.


Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep a night. As you recall, we are part of the natural world and as the rhythm of the seasons change so do, we. Our bodies follow a circadian rhythm and this relies on consistency, especially as sunlight becomes less available.

A reason to celebrate shorter days – with less daylight comes more prime sleep hours. Research has shown, the more erratic your sleep patterns are, the higher your risk for developing obesity, hypertension, elevated blood sugar, heart disease and depression. Set a bedtime and a wake-time that are reasonable seven days a week.

  • If possible, adjust your sleep time during the winter months to maximize your daylight exposure first thing in the morning.
  • Limit exposure to light at night before bedtime. Again, avoid screen time an hour before bedtime. Studies have shown that the light emitted from laptop and tablet screens can suppress the release of nighttime melatonin, a critical hormone in your body’s circadian system.

Download our FREE Ultimate Guide to Healthy Sleep e-book for more healthy sleep tips.


“Other people matter.” Fall is the season of thanks, giving and gathering! When it comes to happiness, the field of positive psychology, the science of wellbeing, teaches us that the most important thing in the pursuit of happiness is: the people and community you surround yourself with.

Chris Peterson, PhD said he could summarize the field in three words: “other people matter.” Having strong social connections offers huge benefits in emotional and physical well-being.

  • If you can’t meet in person, lean on technology. FaceTime, Skype and Zoom add an instant sense of connection. Being able to see expressions and reactions in real time instantly elevates the conversational experience and may help fight off depression.
  • Create a call list: Get into a regular schedule of touching base with relatives or friends. Call every few days to check in to see how they are getting along and if they need any assistance.

We really hope these FRESH tips and tricks offer you a smooth transition into the beautiful and celebratory fall season. Identify your priorities and adopt healthy new habits. Focus on gratitude and balance and adopt a FRESH routine to set yourself up for success. The ancient sages used to set up their lives seasonally to obtain Swastha (health) and prevent disease. With gratitude, grit and grace, may you do the same.

Dr. Robert Graham

Robert E. Graham, MD, MPH, is a Harvard-trained physician, board certified in Internal and Integrative Medicine, and trained chef. Dr. Graham received his medical degree from the School of Medicine at Stony Brook University Medical Center and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital. He earned a Masters of Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health while completing three fellowships in General Internal Medicine, Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies and Medical Education at Harvard Medical School. One of less than 20 doctor/chefs worldwide, he obtained his culinary degree from the Natural Gourmet Institute.

A leader in the field of Integrative Medicine, Dr. Graham has prescribed “food as medicine” for over 15 years,. He has taught over 500 healthcare workers how to cook, created the first edible rooftop garden on a hospital in NYC and is the founder of FRESH Medicine, an integrative health and wellness center in NYC. FRESH is an acronym for five ingredients for health: Food, Relaxation, Exercise, Sleep and Happiness. In 2019, Dr. Graham launched an online school called FRESHMEDU with his wife, Julie.