When we talk of exercise, we always refer to physical exercise.
People exercise mainly for maintaining or enhancing physical fitness and general health.
All kinds of exercises including walking, biking, jogging, swimming and attending fitness classes are popular in New Zealand.
It is commonly believed that exercise can accrue several benefits to the body, including weight control, improved mood, energy boost, better sleep, reduced risk of heart disease, strengthened lungs, respiratory and immune systems.
Regular exercise reduces stress and depression, improves sleep and provides greater vitality. Exercise is also stated to improve nearly all medical conditions in varying degrees. But this is a dangerous statement, since it might mislead people.
There is no doubt at all above-mentioned benefits can be achieved but we should know that they could be obtained only if conducted in the right way.
An increasing number of people doing regular exercises have certain health issues, such as chronic illnesses, frequent injuries, poor immune ability, and so on.
Exercise to benefit
What are the reasons behind these ailments? What is the right way to do it? How can we get the full benefits from exercises, and avoid potential dangerous threats to our health?
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theories, the human body is a combination of two kinds of energies, the first of which is known as Yang, representing invisible, active and positive energy.
The second category, called Yin, represents the physical, inactive and conservative energy.
The Middle Qi
When the Yang and the Yin are balanced, they interact and generate the stable, dynamic and sustainable energy between them, named Middle Qi, which is the root of human vitality. If the two are not balanced, Yang and Yin would struggle to maintain the balance and fighting each other.
While the Yin represents physical organs including the bone, blood, body fluid, muscles, vessels and inhaling, the Yang represents the spirit, warmth, passion, functions, movement, awakening, activeness and exhaling.
Based on the above TCM knowledge, it would be easy to understand the benefits and or otherwise of exercises. Exercise can be regarded as Yang of the body, since it is active movement; it consumes Yin.
Exercise can encourage body’s yang energy such as blood circulation and distribution, heart’s function of pumping blood, breathing, coordination of body activities, digestive system, cleansing phlegm, blood stasis, dampness, stool, water retention, and so on.
But exercise consumes Yin. These benefits will not accrue once the body’s Yin reserve drops below the requisite levels.
The best time
TCM believes that our body’s function is closely related to Nature, especially the movement of the Sun, Moon and Earth. The revolution of the Earth to the Sun determines the one-year period and four seasonal changes.
The rotation of the earth determines the one day period; there are four seasons of one day as well, morning (3 am to 9 am ) can be regarded as spring, lunch time (9 am to 3 pm) could be summer afternoon (3 pm to 9 pm ) is autumn, while evening and night (9 pm to 3 am) would be winter.
Our body’s Yang energy is the same as nature, its rising in spring, summer of one year, in morning and lunchtime of one day. Since the movement can encourage the Yang of the body, the stillness can encourage the Yin of the body.
The balancing act
Balancing exercise and rest will promote the Middle Qi, the source of vital energy. The balance can be achieved during one year’ cycle, one day’s cycle, between exercises, and during exercises. For example, we can do more exercise in spring and summer, less in autumn and winter, have regular breaks during exercises, ensure that the sleep hours match the amount of daily exercises and so on.
For people with chronic illnesses, the body’s reserve, the Yin is usually deficient. Therefore, exercises should be reduced in general.
Reasonable exercise can help the functions of body, assisting the reserves of body.
Nutritionists, Exercise Physiologists and doctors tend to believe that dieting is one of the best forms of losing weight. Excess calories are built up throughout the body and hence if a person decreases food intake and consumes fewer calories that burn up, or exercises more and burns up more calories.
But TCM has a different idea about exercises and losing weight.
Firstly, the energy in food is quite different from the energy that is stored in human body. The communication between these two types of energies is the digestive system. If the food is properly digested, the body would be able to absorb the nutrients and convert them into the energy that the human body uses as its own fuel.
Hence, improving the functioning of the digestive system is the basic way to treat obesity in TCM treatment.
Harry Chen is an Acupuncturist and Herbalist of traditional Chinese Medicine. He is based in Auckland.