Chinese Medicine: Tips for Healthy Aging

Traditional advice for aging well finds a helpful echo in modern medicine
February 5, 2020 Updated: February 5, 2020
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My neighbor Marie is hardly ever home. She’s out during the day at one of her volunteering gigs or hanging out with a friend. Friday nights are date night, which usually involves dinner out with her boyfriend. Weekends are spent visiting with family, and during the summer, she spends time at the lake cabin. It’s no wonder that I rarely see hershe’s constantly on the go. The kicker is that Marie is 88 years old.

Marie is a role model for how I want to age. She’s active, involved, and relatively healthy. It’s a puzzle, however, why some people grow older with good health and energy, and others decline much sooner.

Certainly, genetics and lifestyle play a big role. That said, there are many exceptionspeople living into their 80s, 90s, and even past 100, who have been dealt a poor genetic hand and have never paid much attention to living the clean life. So, what’s the deal?

One explanation may involve the theory behind epigenetics, in which your genes are affected by external or environmental factors instead of DNA sequencing. This simply means that beyond your inherited genetic makeup, how you live also impacts genetic expressionhow your genes communicate with your cells.

In Chinese medicine, your body constitution is shaped by something called essence. It determines your overall health, how you grow and mature your fertility, and the aging process. You inherit that essence from your ancestors, which sets the stage for your physical makeup (much like genes). As you age, that original essence is slowly depleted and can never be replaced. When it’s completely used up, you die.

However, there is a second kind of essence that can augment and conserve the original stuff. By living healthfully, eating well, and avoiding crazy extremes, you can protect your original essence so it does not decline as quickly.

This centuries-old theory from Chinese medicine sounds very much like the current, cutting-edge study of epigenetics. Beyond claiming to have known this first, Chinese medicine also offers up some ideas on how to protect yourself to age as long and healthfully as possible. This includes the following:

Balance Your Rest and Work Cycles. You need enough rest in the form of sleep to heal and rejuvenate your body. In addition, while a certain amount of work is important to keep your mind sharp, in Chinese medicine working excessively is considered to be a cause of illness.

Move Your Body. Movement in the form of exercise is the closest thing to the fountain of youth. Movement creates more movement and keeps your joints lubricated, your blood flowing, your heart and lungs healthy, and your mind sharp. Just remember to balance it with adequate rest.

What You Eat Makes a Difference. You can’t expect to ignore your diet for decades and live long and healthfully. Yes, sometimes it happens that you will see a 90-year-old who lives on bagged snacks and food from the drive-up windowbut not many.

By eating real food, predominantly plant-based, that hasn’t been preserved or otherwise “enhanced” with chemicals, you will be ahead of the game. And you don’t have to revamp your whole kitchen. Research has documented that even small, healthy dietary changes make a positive difference in your health.

Mind Over Matter. The Chinese have a saying that the emotions are the cause of 1,000 diseases, and I have found this to be true in my acupuncture practice.

The impact of a poor emotional state is very real and far-reaching. My prescription? A little gratitude every day.

Stress, anxiety, worry, depression, and negativity impact your health, and not in a good way. Negative emotions impact your digestion, sleep, blood pressure, and hormonal makeup, for starters.

The impact of a poor emotional state is very real and far-reaching. Current research indicates that people with a negative outlook have a shortened expected lifespan. My prescription? A little gratitude every day.

Your genetic makeup is a bit like a hand you are dealt in a card game. You may get a good or not-so-good hand, but how you play the game is really what counts. Whether talking about epigenetics or how to preserve essence in Chinese medicine, lifestyle choices make a difference in how you age.

 Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on AcupunctureTwinCities.com