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July 6, 2024

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Walk 100 steps after you finish a meal and you may live to be a centenarian

ALMOST all Chinese know the saying fanhou baibuzou, huodao jiushijiu (饭后百步走,活到九十九), which means that if you walk 100 steps after each meal, you will live to 99.

This is a traditional belief that a slow walk after eating may aid digestion and benefit general health.

The “Yellow Emperor’s Inner Cannon,” the earliest text of traditional Chinese medicine compiled more than 2,300 years ago, emphasizes the importance of exercises and physical sports in cultivating a happy mind and healthy body.

It says in Chapter 2 of its first volume that during the three months of spring, people should get up early in the morning, let down their hair, relax their bodies and take a stroll in the yard with big strides.

“This is corresponding to the qi (vital life energy) of spring, and it is the way to nourish life,” goes the advice.

However, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners usually recommend light aerobic exercises, particularly those combined with the regulation of body shape, the mind and breathing, which is called tiaoxing (调形), tiaoyi (调意) and tiaoxi (调息) in Chinese.

In other words, traditional Chinese medicine exercises are not just for strengthening the muscles, but also for facilitating the movement of qi in the body and improving the function of organs.

The most popular traditional Chinese medicine health exercises include taijiquan (太极拳), baduanjin (八段锦), wuqinxi (五禽戏) as well as zhanzhuang (站桩) and dazuo (打坐).

Taijiquan, also known as just “tai chi” in English, is a special type of martial arts which combines slow, deliberate movements, meditation and deep breathing.

Today, there is growing evidence around the world that this mind-body practice can play a salient role in treating or preventing many health problems and delaying aging.

According to legend, this exercise was formulated by a 12th century Taoist monk and martial artist, and is based on principles of traditional Chinese medicine.

For instance, traditional Chinese medicine holds that qi must be able to move freely throughout the body to maintain good health and keep balance of mind and spirit. Taijiquan is believed to be one of the best means to unblock the flow of qi.

In December 2020, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization inscribed taijiquan on its humanity heritage list.

“Safeguarding the element would increase its visibility and dialogue about the diverse ways taijiquan is practiced by different communities,” UNESCO said in a statement.

Baduanjin, one of the most common health exercises, is based on ancient Chinese qigong (气功), or controlled breathing. It can be literally translated as “eight-section brocade,” referring to its silky smooth eight individual movements.

This exercise can help stretch muscles and other parts of the body, especially after prolonged sitting; dredge the meridians and collaterals; stimulate blood circulation; promote the function of lungs and heart; help discharge toxins and waste from the body; and dissipate negative emotions.

As a form of low-intensity aerobic exercise, baduanjin is also good for improving balance, relieving pain and slowing the aging process. It’s a positive activity for the middle-aged and older, and the weak.

Imitating the movements of the tiger, deer, bear, monkey and bird, wuqinxi, or “five-animal frolics,” was first choreographed about 2,000 years ago as a form of therapeutic qigong.

Traditional Chinese medicine claims that practicing the “frolics” can reduce illness and benefit the legs. After completing the exercise, one is left with gentle perspiration, a rosier complexion, a relaxed body and a healthy appetite.

Zhanzhuang is standing meditation while dazuo is sitting meditation, with one’s legs crossed and feet rested on thighs, a posture also seen in yoga. In both exercises, one should try to breathe deeply, evenly, slowly and softly — relaxing the body and shutting out noises to bring calmness to the mind.

In this way, one can lower heartbeat rate and blood pressure, help manage stress, reduce negative feelings, increase patience, heighten attention and raise the quality of sleep.

Though people always say that life lies in movement, the “Canon” cautions that excessive exercise can result in harm.

It lists five “exhaustions,” or wulao (五劳): prolonged looking or watching damages blood; prolonged lying down damages qi; prolonged sitting damages muscles; prolonged standing damages bones; and prolonged walking damages sinews. Alternatively, these five over-exertions refer to deficiencies of the five zang (脏) organs — liver, heart, spleen, lungs and kidneys.

That said, proper and regular light aerobic exercises recommended by traditional Chinese medicine are valuable in preserving one’s health and well-being. So, after that next meal, remember to walk 100 steps.


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