77 Ways To Improve Your Wellbeing
You Can Be Really Well
You really can live longer!
People can extend their lives by up to 14 years by not smoking, drinking moderately, eating healthily and keeping physically active. A study surveyed 20,244 men and women aged between 45 and 79. Those who had smoked, drank, failed to exercise and had not eaten enough fruit and vegetables, were four times more likely to have died during a period between 1993 and 2006, than those who didn’t.
In the 21st century people are becoming increasingly aware that there are many benefits to be gained from a healthy lifestyle. They realize that they can not only extend their lives and become healthier, they can also feel more contented and positive and have more vitality, stamina and clarity of mind.
Chinese medicine practitioners have observed and used the principles of a healthy lifestyle for thousands of years. As a general rule Chinese people have tended to place a higher priority on maintaining their health than have Western people.
A survey carried out by the office of Population Censuses and Surveys in England in the 1990s illustrates the benefits they gain from their attitude.2 This research found that only 29% of Chinese pensioners have serious and longlasting illnesses, compared to 36% of white people and 43% of people of Indian or Pakistani origin. These statistics are truly stunning – especially bearing in mind that most of the people included in this census were living in an unfamiliar= culture. In China itself we would expect the results to have been even more spectacular.
The Nei Jing or The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine is China’s most famous medical textbook and contains advice about health and lifestyle. It was written in about 200 bce. Since that time Chinese medicine has developed practical guidelines based on how lifestyle affected people’s wellbeing. By paying attention to the way we eat, sleep, work and exercise as well as balancing our emotions, Chinese medicine practitioners were aware of what modern research is only just discovering. Lifestyle can have a huge impact on our health, happiness and longevity.
Chinese health ‘secrets’ were tried and tested over thousands of years. They have been passed down through families and have been quoted by the great Chinese doctors. As a result they are guidelines we can rely on and are quite different from various food and lifestyle ‘fads’ in the West.
Unfortunately the pressures of the 21st century often lead people away from a lifestyle that can benefit their physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. This book gives you Chinese medicine’s profound yet simple guidelines to enable you to deal with these stresses.
What’s in this for you?
There are many positive gains to be made from a healthy lifestyle. Table 1 gives some potential negative and positive effects. Although we can’t avoid all diseases, we do know that every illness has a cause. The main causes of disease discovered by Chinese medicine over 2,000 years ago are still as relevant today. They form the chapter headings of the book and the first column in the table. Please be aware that this is just an overview and there are many more positive and negative affects that can be had.
Table 1. The positive and negative effects of a healthy lifestyle.
|Diet||Tiredness and lethargy||Energy and vigour|
|Becoming overweight||Staying slim|
|Food reactions and sensitivities||A feeling of wellbeing|
|Physical pains and discomfort||Ease of movement|
|Physical illnesses||Freedom from disease|
|Emotions||Anxiety and agitation||Internal peace|
|Foggy mind||Mental clarity|
|Isolation and alienation||An ability to deal with intimacy|
|Feeling miserable and overly||A good sense of humour|
|Easily defeated||Emotional resilience|
|Feeling stuck in a rut||Ability to use setbacks to grow|
|Work, rest and||Poor health and tiredness||Good health and vitality|
|exercise||Dissatisfaction and boredom||Fulfilment in work life|
|Pain and stiffness||Fluid and easy movement|
|Numbness of body and decreased||Increased consciousness and|
|Tension and tight muscles||Liveliness, relaxation and|
|Overweight and muscle wasting||A slim and well-toned body|
|Climate||Succumbing to physical illness||Freedom from physical illness|
|Inability to fight disease||Strong immune system|
|Pain, discomfort and immobilization||Feeling of vitality and wellbeing|
|Illness due to unseasonal activity||Flowing and adjusting with the|
|Constitution||Degeneration and ageing||Youthfulness and longevity|
|A painful and miserable old age||Vitality and vigour into old age|
|Over-extending self leading to||Living within confines of|
An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure
The consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle often take time to emerge and we can damage our health without knowing it. A bad diet or lack of exercise, for example, may take years before producing a symptom. The practice of a healthy lifestyle is important in order to prevent illness. Prevention means acting before the problems manifest.
Illnesses that are easily prevented
Some illnesses are easy to avoid with simple lifestyle changes. Here are two examples.
A colleague had a patient whose children had stomach pains. The patient wanted to bring them to have acupuncture treatment. This practitioner asked what they ate and was told that their diet included a lot of cold food such as iced drinks and ice cream. My colleague suggested that although treatment would be possible, they should first try reducing the amount of cold food the children were eating. The patient returned two weeks later and told him that they had taken his advice and were amazed because this simple solution had cured the stomach pains. Chinese medicine understands the effects of cold in the diet. You will find out more in Chapter 2 on diet and in Chapter 4 on the effects of the climate.
Most of us also make choices with regard to the balance of our work, rest and exercise. For example, if we work and don’t rest for long periods then we can get worn out and may succumb to illnesses more easily. Illnesses such as chronic fatigue, frequent colds and flu, anxiety, tiredness, depression and many other conditions, may be due to returning to work before we are really better.
Recently a patient with chronic fatigue syndrome told me that she regretted not convalescing when she was ill with a severe infection. She returned to work before she was better and is now reaping the consequences. She realized that a change in her lifestyle habits would have prevented this illness.
Events we can’t predict
Life will never be totally predictable, however, and other illnesses are less easy to avoid. Stresses like bereavement, accidents and other emotional traumas can’t be avoided and can certainly take their toll on our health. We can compare a healthy lifestyle to an insurance policy. Good lifestyle habits will enable us to cope better through unexpected crises and help us to prevent illness in the future.
We’ve taken a glimpse at Chinese medicine in relation to illness. To understand the Chinese medicine view of health, we need to find out more about qi, which can be translated as energy.
Living a qi enhancing lifestyle
Chinese medicine teaches us that our health is dependent on the balance of the qi (pronounced and sometimes written down as chi) in our bodies. Qi is our life force. When we have abundant qi that is flowing smoothly then we are healthy physically, mentally and spiritually. When our qi is deficient or blocked, we become unhealthy.
Although qi cannot be seen, it nevertheless penetrates every cell, allowing us to feel, think, move and have vitality. When we die the qi has left our body and the life force has gone. A lifestyle that enhances our qi will sustain our health. A lifestyle that weakens or blocks our qi will cause us to lose our health. We can decide between these two options.
The true ‘pill’ – lifestyle change
Practitioners of Chinese medicine look at the balance of each person’s qi and view each individual as a whole – this includes their environment and lifestyle.
Most of us now know that lifestyle affects our health but we are still oriented towards a Western viewpoint of disease. If we have something ‘wrong’ with us, we expect a pill to take it away. When we go to a doctor they often feel obliged to hand us a prescription. If this doesn’t work then we feel we haven’t had the right thing ‘done’ to us.
In comparison, practitioners of Chinese medicine assess each individual as a whole and look for the cause of a person’s problem. They understand that most Western medicines will only take away a symptom. The medicines will bring temporary improvement but won’t deal with the underlying cause, so we can expect the symptom to return or a new symptom to appear later. Chinese medicine understands the true ‘pill’ – lifestyle change. We need to adapt our lifestyle to support our health and happiness.
Listen to your body
When we are ill we need to pay more attention to our health. In reality this is often when we feel least able to cope. We may take as many short cuts as possible. For example, eating ‘fast’ food makes our lives easier and many people are attracted to poor-quality foods when their qi is weak.
A friend recently commented that she noticed that if she was tense and stressed then she tended to eat fatty and sweet food like chocolate bars. The quality of these foods could further weaken her qi over a period of time. She then went on to say that if she gives herself the opportunity to do yoga or qigong (see page 118) and relax, then the desire to eat these foods goes away. She then ends up looking forward to eating a wholesome meal.
Ignoring the body’s messages leads to illness and discomfort, while paying heed enables us to enjoy the benefits of health and happiness.
What will be the benefits?
All of us can benefit from some simple adjustments to our lifestyle. This can mean increased vitality, greater wellbeing or many of the other benefits shown in Table 1.
Improvements may be to do with current problems and many ‘named’ diseases can be affected. These may include digestive and bowel disorders, headaches, joint problems, mental and emotional complaints, circulatory disorders, gynaecological conditions, skin diseases, chest complaints and reproductive disorders, to name only a few. By modifying our lifestyle we can expect to feel healthier physically, mentally and spiritually.
If we are really ill it is always best to go to a doctor or a practitioner of Chinese medicine such as an acupuncturist or herbalist. Chinese medicine will increase our qi and help to restore our health. If we have treatment from a Chinese medicine practitioner this can then give us the strength to make necessary changes to our lifestyle. We can always benefit from living healthily and keeping ourselves well creates long-lasting changes in our health.
How to read this book
This book gives you wellbeing tips about all aspects of your life. You may want to read through each chapter in turn, then go back to try out one or two of the suggestions from the Action Boxes. Or you may wish to dip in and out of different sections trying the suggested actions as you go. At the end of this book you will find some additional useful tips about how to make lifestyle adjustments. Remember that it’s important to change at your own speed – small changes can often have a major impact.
I’d like to remind you of two final points:
- First, the process of change takes time. Some changes take only a short time to carry out, but it may take years to truly integrate others into our lives. If we are patient with ourselves we may be surprised to find that we are making alterations quite effortlessly and find that we are naturally living a healthy lifestyle.
- Second, we can’t expect to be perfect. Life is a process of growth and development and we can use our ‘failures’ as feedback for the future. Through trial and error we’ll find out the best ways to live our lives to a healthy old age.
However you choose to use this book, I hope you gain much from learning about the Chinese wisdom that can nourish your life, and enjoy the next steps on your journey.