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We didn’t use to exercise historically; our everyday physical activity was our exercise. Walking to work, cleaning the house, digging, chopping wood, hunting for food and only in our modern life do we now need to exercise. Machines now do many of our daily tasks and many of us simply sit at a desk all day doing very little physical movement. Yet lack of physical activity is one of the greatest contributions to virtually every kind of disease, shortened life and mental and physical decline in old age.

Yang Sheng is traditional Chinese ideas about how we should nourish our lives.  Deadman in his book Live Well, Live Long (2016) explores these concepts and concludes:

 “exercise or more broadly physical movement, has been shown to be one of the most powerful health practices that we can follow”

Eye-catchingly it is not many tedious hours down the gym or running miles in the rain, but simply movement.  We don’t have to do much too either. The evidence quoted by Deadman shows the health benefits of exercise is reversed when this becomes extreme. Light to moderate exercise is better than 50 minutes of daily vigorous physical activity. It was disturbing to read about how endurance athletes suffered enlarged hearts and were more prone to upper respiratory conditions such as asthma. Too much exercise, especially when tired, can lead to exhaustion and stress and is no longer invigorating.

How much exercise?

In Chinese medicine terms when we exercise our Qi and blood is flowing freely we feel good. How do we know what’s a good amount of exercise for us? Deadman tells us that a rough guide is if we feel energised after exercise, even though we felt fatigued beforehand, this is a sign that there was enough energy but that it was blocked and unavailable for us (we say Qi stagnation and is often due to emotional reasons or stress). If, however, we feel even more exhausted after exercise, this indicates real deficiency and means we should rest, and when we do exercise, do so gently until we feel restored.

The Asian view of exercise isn’t doing the least amount of exercise for the ‘highest return’ such as High Intensity Interval Training, which has gained popularity in recent times, but takes a broader approach connecting both mind and body. Exercise is best when varied, such as sports, games, martial arts, dancing, tai chi, walking etc. Being fully present and mentally absorbed in our exercise and breathing, remaining emotionally centred is best. In this way we feel fully alive and connected to our body, developing stamina, flexibility, strong bones and enjoying social interaction.

Read about my Yang Sheng Nourishment of Life Programme for Women