You are currently viewing Ageing: Chinese medicine view

I’m going to be 60 next year and what I’ve noticed in myself, my siblings, patients of a similar age and my parents is the gradual decline of health, as chronic diseases start to take hold.  My parents have spent about the last 18 years in ill health and the last 6 in significant poor health impacting severely on their quality of life.  My sister is only a few years older than me and is crippled with arthritis and can only able to walk short distances.  Unfortunately this is not uncommon. 

I read a statistic recently that said the average American spends 16 years at the end of their lives in ill health.  I’m sure us Brits do too.  What that means is our final years can be horrendous, as we are propped up by drugs, nursing homes and hospitals. Knowledge of how to maintain our health for as long as possible is vital for ourselves, our families and the societies we live in.  Essentially living well until you die.   How we age can be modified by our lifestyle and this is something Traditional Chinese Medicine has a lot to teach us.   

Ageing and free flow

In Chinese medicine how we age is a combination of our Jing and how we live or use up our Qi (translated as our genetic inheritance and lifestyle).  Older people are seen as ‘depleted’ and their Qi stuck; there is much stagnation and especially this is seen in blood flow.  The body stiffens and is prone to diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart disease, tumours and stroke.  You’ll notice that old people will have dark red or purplish tongues which shows this stagnation compared to a healthy, younger tongue which is red.

To counter this stagnation movement of both body and mind is important to bring flexibility and flow of vital Qi or energy throughout our body. This will counter loss of function both cognitively and physically.

Hua Tuo, 3rd century said “movement causes the blood to circulate smoothly and prevents the arising of diseases.”

Don’t forget to include practices such as tai chi, qigong and yoga which create suppleness and as well as strength and cardio exercises.

Ageing and diet

The Chinese recognise that our digestive systems weaken as we age and that particular foods are only suitable for older people.  If you are older you may have noticed this yourself.  Eating too much, eating late at night or eating excessively rich food may all start to cause problems such as indigestion, inability to get to sleep, a poor night’s sleep, feeling tired the next day and so on.  When the digestion is very weak we lose our appetite.  This is a key question asked in a traditional Chinese consultation.  A healthy appetite is linked to good health. The Ancient Chinese say there are 3 basic signs of health: able to eat, able to sleep and able defecate.  A traditional Chinese practitioner will always be mindful of these functions. 

Chinese dietary principles for the Third Age

These include:

  • Do not eat excessively large meals
  • Do not eat late at night
  • Avoid overly sweet, sugary foods, rich or greasy food.
  • Avoid too much alcohol
  • Avoid too much chilled food
  • Eat more liquid foods such as soups and stews

A Contented Third Age

As we age our body’s become dry and brittle, so bringing moisture and fluids into the body, especially through the stomach is important. Such body stiffness can be reflected in our mental capacity too.  We may become fixed in our views as we age, too attached to routines and so it is important to challenge ourselves and take up new ideas and activities.  Age does not necessarily confer wisdom but when it does, this can mean older people are more content. They see the life left as limited, so they invest their time in important and meaningful relationships and often take up hobbies, such as arts and crafts.                                   

About the photo: this was taken in Dulwich Park in Winter.  We can describe the Third Age as our Winter.  We are going inwards, slowing down, we have all the resources we need.
Recommended further reading: Live Well, Live Long: teachings from the Chinese Nourishment of Life Tradition. Peter Deadman.