How to exercise in a smart way ?

When we talk about exercise, we nearly always refer to physical exercise. People exercise mainly for maintaining or enhancing physical fitness and general health. All kinds of exercises are very popular in New Zealand, including walking, biking, jogging, swimming, fitness classes, and so on. It’s common to believe that exercise can bring a lots of benefits to people, such as controls weight, improves mood, boosts energy, promotes better sleep, reduce risk of heart disease, strengthen lungs and respiratory system, strengthen immune system, reduce stress and depression, improve sleep, provide greater vitality, and so on. Some comment even says that exercise improves nearly all medical conditions in varying degree. But I am afraid this is a dangerous statement, since it might mislead people about the exercises.
There is no doubt at all that the above benefits could be achieved, but we should know that the above benefits only could be achieved if they are conducted in the right way. Quite a number of people doing regular exercises have certain health issues, such as chronic illnesses, frequent injuries, poor immune ability, and so on. What are the reasons behind ? What’s the right way to do it ?how we get the full benefits from exercises, and avoid potential dangerous threats to our health in the meantime ?
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine ( TCM ) theories, human body is a combination of two kinds of energies, those invisible, active and positive energy, named as Yang, those physical, inactive and conservative energy, named as Yin. When the Yin and Yang are in a balanced way, they interact and generate the stable, dynamic and sustainable energy between them, named Middle Qi, which is the root of human vitality. If the Yin and Yang are not balanced, Yin and Yang would be struggling to maintain its balance and fighting each outer, thus the Middle Qi won’t be stable and sustainable, in another word, human health will be in danger. Also, Yin and Yang are interconnected and interdependent each other, take a company for example, Yin is like the saving, Yang is like expenditure. Expending wisely like paying wages for skilled stuff, marketing campaign, buying know how, that can generate more savings, and on the other hand savings can help to build up the source for the expenditure. Virtually, the balance level between expenditure and saving can determine the quality and productive potential of this company. In this example, balance between them is the Middle Qi.
To understand a little bit more about the Yin and Yang factors in our bodies, the Yin in our bodies, such as physical organs, bone, blood, body fluid, tendons, muscles, vessels, skin, stillness, sleep, reserve, conservativeness, inhaling, and so on. The Yang in our bodies, such as spirit, warmth, passion, functions, movement, awakening, activeness, exhaling, and so on.
Based on the above TCM knowledge, it becomes easier for us to understand exercise. Firstly, exercise can be regarded as Yang, since it’s a kind of active movement. Secondly, exercises can encourage the general Yang of the body, since exercise can awaken the Yin of the body into Yang. Thirdly, exercise consumes Yin, or in other word, movement need support from body’s energy savings. Fourthly, exercise also support the energy saving, which is the Yin of the body. This is because once the Yang is sufficient, the body’s function will be maintained, thus helps the building up of Yin as well.
Here let me explain some issues related to exercise from pint of view of TCM.
What are the potential benefits from exercise ?
Exercise can encourage body’s yang functions, 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 retentions, and so on. But the exercise consumes Yin, once the body’s Yin reserve is not enough to support exercises, the above benefits wont’ be achieved.
The best time for exercise
TCM believes that our body’s function is closely related with the nature, especially relative movement of the sun, moon and earth. The revolution of the earth to the sun determines the one year period and four seasonal changes. In one year , the sunlight to the earth increases from spring to summer, hence the temperature is rising from spring to summer.
The rotation of the earth determines the one day period, there are four seasons of one day as well, morning (3am to 9am ) can be regarded as spring, lunch time ( 9am to 3pm ) can be regarded as summer, afternoon ( 3pm to 9pm ) can be regarded as autumn, evening and night ( 9pm to 3am ) can be regarded as winter. From morning to lunch time, the temperature is rising, after that, the temperature is dropping.
Our body’s Yang energy is the same as nature, its rising in spring, summer of one year, in morning and lunch time of one day. Since the movement can encourage the Yang of the body, the stillness can encourage the Yin of the body. So the best time to exercise is spring and summer of one year, in morning and lunch time of one day. On the other hand, the best time to rest and keep stillness is in afternoon till night of one day, in autumn and winter of one year. once our exercise is against this natural flow, our body functions would be disturbed and illness could happen without any doubt. Once we follow this natural flow, health will be guaranteed. To apply this principle in one year, we may reduce exercise in autumn and winter, but still can do proper exercise in morning and lunch time of autumn and winter, as to follow one day’s rhythm. Nowadays, so many people believe that exercises can benefit their health whenever they do it, a lots of people doing exercise after work, even at night time, unfortunately these are harmful to health.
Balance of exercise and rest
The balance of exercises and rest will promote the Middle Qi, which is the source of vital energy as I mentioned. 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, we can have regular breaks during exercises, sleep hours match the amount of daily exercises, apply a little bit of controlling during exercise itself, those are all the methods of balance.
How to modify exercises for people with chronic illnesses
For people with chronic illnesses, the body’s reserve, the Yin is usually deficient, so the exercises should be reduced in general. Exercise in a reasonable amount can help the functions of body, thus assist the reserves of body as well, but if exercise is over, this will increase the imbalance of Yin and Yang, causing the deficiency of the Middle Qi, and impairing health. People with chronic illnesses, their immune ability are also poor, so any exercises outdoors, have to be careful of the impact from wind, cold and dampness, which are supposed to be pathogenic factors according to TCM. For any repeated physical injuries, it’s not recommended to exercise too much using those injured areas, this is quite different view from that of Western Medicine.
Exercises in a wrong way won’t help losing weight
Nutritionist, Exercise Physiologist and Doctors tend to believe that if one takes the energy from food( protein, carbohydrate, fat and alcohol) that is more than one’s energy expenditure( basal metabolism and physical activities), excess calories are stored throughout one’s body as fat, one will gain weight. If one decreases food intake and consumes fewer calories than burns up, or if one exercise more and burns up more calories, one’s body will reduce some of the fat stores. When this happens, fat cells shrink, along with one’s waistline.
But TCM has a quite different idea about exercises and losing weight. Firstly, the energy in food is quite different from energy that is stored in human body. The media between the two types of energies is the digestive system. The food has to be digested and then the body is able to absorb the nutrients from the food and convert them into the energy human body can use as its own fuel. Generally this energy conversion efficiency may not exceed 100%, it varies depending on how sound the digestive system is. Also, in order to digest the food, human body invest its own energy in the process of digestion as well. Secondly, the energy in our body is stored as a form of essence and Qi in kidney, muscles and bone, not in form of fat only. Thirdly, the weight is regarded as rubbish in human body, such as undigested food and drinks, phlegm, dampness, that are not the forms of energy at all. Fourthly, in order to get rid of the extra weight, the rubish, human need to increase the energy level, not reduce the energy. Fifthly, the benefit of exercise is because exercise could encourage the functions of the body, hence the body can do a better job to cleans its rubbish.
So, that is why to improve the digestive system’s function is the very basic way to treat obesity in TCM treatment proposal.
Is exercise appropriate during recovery from injuries ?
People with injuries can still do their exercises in a certain level, but the exercise plans has to be modified accordingly. If the injuries cause the damage of physical tissues, such as fracture, tear of tendons, open wounds, then rest becomes the main principle during recovery, since the physical tissue is to be built up from rest rather than exercise. But exercise can be done in the morning and lunch time if it is moderate and not disturb the injured part of the body. If the injury mainly swelling, sprain, exercise can be used as priority for recovery, but has to be conducted without aggravate the symptoms, or causing extra tensions, and in the right time again of course.
Once people have injuries, Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are also the two options to balance body, to maintain the functions of body and assist a quick recovery.

Harry Chen
23rd Oct. 2014