Health and Fitness are so intrinsically linked that people often overlook the fact that they are not actually the same thing. One cannot be truly healthy without also being reasonably fit; however, one can be fit and not be healthy. This is quite a common phenomenon in our society. Many people exercise to extremes in addition to overworking and push their bodies to the limits of physical endurance in the misguided belief that this is healthy. Often this is allied to poor or misguided dietary choices masquerading as healthy. No amount of exercise can counter the effects of a poor diet.
Competitiveness is often a factor for many people who exercise to excess, competitiveness towards themselves and their peers. There is a desire to push themselves to the limits and beyond. While striving is good and should be encouraged, over –striving is bad. In Traditional Chinese Medicine terms it depletes the energy of the kidneys; in allopathic medicine it causes adrenal fatigue. The stress hormone cortisol is also controlled within the kidneys. When we are overworking and over exercising we have a continual release of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Continuous release of cortisol results in an inhibited immune system, an inhibited reproductive system and the accumulation of excess fat around the waist and abdomen. We often see this in people who say they exercise so much yet can’t lose their belly fat.
The Ancient Chinese, in their infinite wisdom, connected the organs with specific emotions. The emotion associated with the kidneys is fear i.e. excessive fear unbalances the kidneys. Modern biochemical science associates the kidneys with the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol essential for the fight or flight response that we experience when encountering a dangerous or life threatening situation. How did the ancient Chinese, without modern scientific means of testing make the association between the kidneys and fear which has been corroborated by modern medicine?
In TCM we always strive for balance, we look to balance the fundamental forces of Yin and Yang within the body and we look for balance in diet and exercise. Yin and Yang are the energetic foundation of the universe. Yin is comparatively feminine and its attributes include cooling, calming, moistening, Yang is comparatively masculine and is warming protecting and activating. Too much exercise, a Yang phenomenon, depletes Yin and dries the body out, exhausting the kidneys which are the root of Yin and Yang in the body. Symptoms associated with this will include low back and hip pain, weak knees and ankles, a pale gaunt complexion and often dark marks under the eyes in addition to the internal symptoms already mentioned.
In addition to this, people who over exercise often don’t have time for regular cooked meals and end up with a predominately raw diet with nutritional and vitamin supplements. Supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet. A healthy balanced wholefood diet, low in refined carbohydrates, processed foods and hydrogenated fats will provide all of the nutrients you need for health. Supplements may be used by athletes who genuinely require the extra energy for specific sports but most healthy people with a balanced diet don’t require them.
Monosaccharides, Disaccharides and Polysaccharides. Mono means one and di means two so these are simple sugars which get immediately into the blood stream and spike our blood sugar. Polysaccharides are complex carbs that require time and effort for the body to break down resulting in a slow steady release of energy into the body. Contrary to the Atkins and Paleo diet fads carbohydrates are good for us. Palaeolithic humans lived until the age of about 30, is that really the model of health we want to aspire to? Grains are the foundation of a healthy diet and should constitute 40-60% of our daily dietary intake. However, white rice, white bread and what in general is bad for you. The wheat we eat today is not the same as the wheat we ate 50 years ago. It has been modified beyond all recognition to produce higher crop yields and this has led to higher levels of gluten than ever before. This is contributing to the prevalence of gluten sensitivity.
With carbohydrates it is best to steer clear of things that are white: potatoes, white bread, white rice, pasta. Keep these to a minimum. Rather eat wholegrain brown rice, wholegrain sourdough breads. Be careful of common supermarket “brown breads” that are merely coloured white bread masquerading as healthy.
Balance is the key, balanced exercise, balanced diet. A strictly puritan diet with no enjoyment is not balanced and you will resent and resist it so make sure you reward yourself with a nice treat from time to time. Not the end of every meal or instead of meals. A healthy treat can be had every day e.g. try a naturally sweetened dessert and avoid the refined sugar.