How can we age well? This is a question that we will all, with luck, need to face at some point. Chinese medicine has a lot to offer in this area of life. It has many, many tools, tricks and approaches to keep us vital and healthy as we get older. Today I will introduce several key concepts to help you understand what happens as we age, and then offer some ways to combat or mitigate them. These will not only help you live longer but age more gracefully.
Its not just that we slow down as get older, though that happens too. One very important concept from the Chinese medicine perspective is the idea of blood stasis, a broad term that refers to the quality of circulation in all the tissues of the body. As we age, blood becomes thicker and the channels and blood vessels become static and obstructed, as in atherosclerosis. Poor circulation means that blood, nutrients and oxygen don’t efficiently get to the bodily tissues and organs of the body, and waste products don’t get cleared away completely and accumulate. The body becomes blocked, function is impaired and weakness and poor organ function results.
Some signs of this pathomechanism include:
- Chronic pain, especially fixed, stabbing pain
- Stiff joints
- Deformed joints
- Age spots
- Varicose and spider veins
- Dark tongue with dark and distended sublingual veins
- Microstasis, such as that caused by Covid-19.
- Angina pain, heart attacks and strokes
- Tumors and cancers
You can see from this list that there is a wide range of symptoms, from very minor to very serious (and to be clear, its not the case that someone will get cancer if they have varicose veins, far from it). But these symptoms, taken together, do paint a picture of what often happens as a person ages.
You can also see blood stasis when you look at many old people walk or stand. In a lot of ways, a person looks old when they are stooped over and move with difficulty. A “young” old person is one who looks supple and moves easily for their age, with skin clear of age spots and spider veins. Someone who has few or no signs of blood stasis, in other words.
The next types of obstructions that are described in Chinese medicine are dampness and phlegm. They are quite similar in that they both describe impaired fluid metabolism, ie the body isn’t able to properly process waste material and it builds up in the body. They both tend to be heavy, tenacious and difficult to get rid of. Examples include phlegm in the lungs or sinuses, a heavy feeling in the body, problems with urination or bowels, nodules, cysts, a foggy head and unclear mind. Excessive body fat is another sign of dampness.
Dampness and phlegm mainly come from poor digestion. Signs such as constipation (even occasional), loose stools, bloating, poor appetite, acid reflux point to less than optimum digestion, which leads to poor processing and elimination of food.
Dampness, like blood stasis, is another form of excess in the body and also blocks and impedes function. It makes everything slow down and stagnate, similar in this manner to blood stasis. The two feed off of each other, in fact – they both impede function while also being caused by poor function, so having one will lead to formation of the other. An example of this would be atherosclerosis (dampness) that impedes blood supply to the heart causing a heart attack (blood stasis).
So this is the picture of how people in modern Western countries generally age. So what to do about it? How can we prevent dampness, phlegm and blood stasis from being created?
The most important ways come down to the factors we all know about – good nutrition, adequate but not excessive exercise, enough sleep and reducing our stress. Do these four things and you are maximizing your chances of living a long, healthy life.
To go into more detail, here are some other simple ideas that are very supportive to longevity:
- Take care of digestion. As soon as you see signs of impaired digestion such as loose stools, loss of morning appetite or bloating, take care of it. Make better food choices and seek help from your Chinese medicine practitioner and acupuncturist.
- To expand on the above, identify and eliminate any food sensitivities or allergies.
- Move, move, move. 30 minutes of brisk but comfortable walking is often enough.
- Learn some tai chi or qi gong. There are very good reasons why older people in China gather every morning to practice. The benefits are hard to overestimate.
- Take care of your feet. There is a saying in Chinese medicine, “aging begins with the feet”.
- Take care of your spine health. A supple spine is associated with supple arteries, which is a predictor of good cardiovascular health.
- Eat and take lots of mushrooms! They are high in fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals and have profound anti-cancer and immune-modulating effects. Different mushrooms are also very supportive of brain, heart, liver, lung and kidney health.
- Get acupuncture and take Chinese herbal medicine. I provide both in Collingwood, Meaford and Thornbury. They are powerful tools in healthy aging.
- Get my Longevity Tea! I will be posting the recipe in a future post, or contact me to get it from me.
I hope these ideas are helpful in how you think about healthy aging. Keeping the concepts of blood stasis, dampness and phlegm in mind can keep us alert to their appearance – and the sooner you take care of them through diet, lifestyle or treatment, the higher your chances are to age with grace, clarity and good health.
If you’d like to see what acupuncture and Chinese medicine has to offer you in aging with health and vitality, please send me a message or book an appointment at either my Collingwood or Meaford clinics. Chinese medicine has been helping people age well for millenia; it has a lot to offer as we try to squeeze every last drop of health and vitality out of our earthly bodies.