Five Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Health

By: Lynn Jaffee

Everyone wants to be in the best best health possible. Sleeping well, having lots of energy and living a pain-free life are attainable goals for most of us. Unfortunately, there is so much confusing information available as to how we can be our healthiest, that it's hard to know where to start. Almost daily we hear about some new drug that can lower cholesterol, balance blood sugar, help you lose weight, decrease your blood pressure, ease your pain, or help whatever health condition you may have. We read about miracle foods, the perfect vitamin, tropical juices, and power drinks that are the answer to all your health concerns

Unfortunately, there is no miracle food and most medications only address the symptoms of disease; they rarely cure. Sure, you may feel better for a while, but more often than not, your symptoms return, or you need to continually take greater amounts of medications to obtain the same effectiveness.

What if there were a way to treat the source of your health problems? To make them go away and never come back. This may sound like a tall order, but it happens every day, and has been happening every day for thousands of years. An effective system of healing has been helping people like you feel their best for centuries. That system of healing is Chinese medicine.

When we think about Chinese medicine, most of us think about acupuncture, which is an important component, but acupuncture isn't the only thing that Chinese medicine has to offer. The ancient Chinese sages believed that the best way to stay healthy is through lifestyle and proper diet. Even when someone became sick, the first treatment would often be food therapy and lifestyle changes. Only if those measures failed, would they turn to acupuncture and herbs for a cure.

There are a number of life habits and dietary guidelines based on the teachings of Chinese medicine that are available to each of us. The following guidelines are simple enough, but can impact your health dramatically.  

1) Eat according to Chinese food theory. Most people who are trying to improve their health give a considerable amount of thought to what they should eat. Unfortunately, as a culture, we tend to label foods as either good or bad, which has us eliminating whole food groups from our diet. 

The Chinese look at food in a different way. Rather than getting bogged down in which food is good and which food is bad, they look at digestion as the key to healthy eating. The healthiest food in the world is useless if your digestion is poor.

Think of your digestive process as a pot of soup simmering over a low heat, say 98 degrees, the temperature of our body. If you add a 24 oz. frozen drink or ice cream to that pot of soup, it stops simmering, and it takes a long time for the soup to get back its warmth to continue cooking. The same is true of your digestion. When you eat or drink very cold foods, it slows your digestion and takes a lot of your internal energy to warm it up again. Eating lots of raw vegetables and fruits have a similar effect. Your energy is consumed in the digestive process.  

According to Chinese theory, if you “predigest” foods by cooking them a little bit, they will be better digested and as a result, will be more easily absorbed and converted into the nutrients your body needs for good health. Ideal meals include soups, stews, and stir fries.

As for exactly what to eat, you don't have to look any further than your neighborhood Chinese restaurant for the answer. Eat lots of vegetables, a little protein, a little carbohydrate in the form of whole grains, a little fruit and small amounts of everything else. Drink warm tea or room temperature fluids with your meal.

2) Get moving. If such a thing as the fountain of youth existed, it would probably be in the form of physical activity. The benefits of a regular exercise program are endless, from improved cardiovascular health, better strength and balance, improved immunity, and relief from stress.  

According to Chinese theory, moving your body also helps to move energy, which can get blocked, causing pain and illness. There is no one best way to exercise, but in order to avoid overdoing it, try to combine some vigorous movement that makes you breathe hard with one or more of the gentler forms of exercise. Yoga, stretching, Tai Qi, Qi Gong, or simply walking are all considered gentle and relaxing ways to move your body.

3) Get your stress control. There are really only two kinds of emotions: the positive kind that enhance your health, and the negative kind that drain your energy and make you susceptible to illness. The Chinese believe that the emotions are the cause of all internal illnesses. They may have something here, especially when we look at the negative impact of stress on our bodies.  

Stress causes chemical reactions in your body, where certain hormones are released that can affect everything from your immune system to your digestion. Inflammatory conditions, arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even weight gain can be caused by the hormonal changes brought on by stress.

So how to get a handle on stress? We're all aware of the many methods, classes and exercises available to relieve stress. However, when you're overwhelmed with all the things on your “to do” list, one more class or exercise just becomes another stressful thing to do. The good news is that you can benefit from as little as three minutes of some kind of meditation. A couple of simple (and quick) fixes:

-Breathe in by expanding your rib cage and belly to a count of four. Hold to a count of seven and release by flattening your belly towards your spine to a count of eight. 

-Visualize yourself in a favorite and relaxing place, which can be real or imagined. Spend a few minutes filling in all the details: what you see in every direction, sounds, smells, etc. By doing this, your brain releases the same “feel good” chemicals as if you were actually in that place.

4) Preserve your Essence. In Chinese medicine, your health and the length of your life is determined by something called Essence, or your essential life force. The strength of your Essence is determined by a combination of genetics, your physical constitution, and lifestyle.

One of the smartest ways to stay healthy is to preserve your Essence by living wisely, and not becoming run down. Some of the ways you deplete your Essence is by overworking, not eating well, skimping on the sleep, and trying to do too many things. Also considered depleting is too much partying, having too many children and having sex too often.

Wise living means getting enough sleep to rejuvenate your body. It means working, but not too hard. Exercising too much, studying and long hours in front of a computer screen are also considered overworking. Eating adequate amounts of the right kinds of food (see above) also protect your Essence. 

5) Explore Acupuncture. Acupuncture is an ancient healing system that originated in China thousands of years ago and is still successfully in practice today. It works by addressing the source of your health problem--not just by relieving symptoms. Acupuncture works by balancing energy within your body, which may sound out there and new age. However, every cell in your body produces energy in the form of ATP. The Chinese just operate on the premise that your energy moves in pathways throughout your body. When people become ill or have pain, it's because that energy is blocked in some way or it's depleted. The goal of acupuncture it to restore or maintain health by unblocking or increasing the flow of energy.

The World Health Organization has identified over sixty health conditions that acupuncture can treat, from pain to mental health conditions to digestive problems. In addition, acupuncture is a great way to maintain your good health, too. Give it a try!