You may have noticed that life has changed as you age. The energy you once had is not so abundant. You may experience a difficult time sleeping. Time may have introduced you to arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, or a host of other conditions. The actual energy that makes up your health is called vitality in Chinese Medicine. Here is what vitality is, how you store it, and how you use it.
In Chinese Medicine, three things help determine the vitality you bring into this world: the genetics from your father and mother and nutrition during pregnancy. These three things set the foundation for the amount of energy you have in reserve. The reserve energy is called vitality.
Vitality is kind of like a gas tank. Some people get a two-gallon tank, and some people get a thirty-gallon tank. The vitality gas tank is the back-up gas tank to your daily natural resources. You draw from this tank when life gets hectic, and your daily natural resources are not enough to get through.
The vitality tank is not static. You can make choices that will help you maintain and build the energy reserve. These are choices that help you take care of yourself. They can be choices like allowing yourself to get enough sleep, eating nutritious foods, so your body has the nutrients needed to function, or reducing negativity in your life. The positive emotion of love and joy almost supercharges the tank. I have an episode on my Youtube channel that identifies the Five causes of disease in Chinese Medicine. It’s these five areas that can help you donate to your vitality.
But, the reality is life is an exciting explosion of sounds, sights, tastes, sensations, and smells. In your enjoyment of the comfort of life, you may make choices that mistreat and overwhelm your natural resources. And that is not the only way you can tax your natural resources. Life happens. Financial hardships, death, and other things can put you and your family’s survival and safety needs in jeopardy. They can take large withdrawals on your vitality.
You want to donate to your vitality, and let me tell you why. In Chinese Medicine, they say you have a limited amount of vitality. Let’s say you have 100 units of vitality. Throughout life, you’re going to make choices that change these units.
Because vitality is more a black box than linear logic, here is a simple framework to think about vitality. Each choice you make in life either adds, drains, or keeps your vitality reserve tank equal. Throughout life, let’s say you make choices that drain 1/1000 a unit from your tank every day. This is that reserve you have to pull from to keep your body going when your body doesn’t have enough daily natural resources. An example of having to draw from the reserve is not getting enough sleep. To get through that day, you chug coffee and mentally push yourself. The coffee stimulated your body to use more energy than was available. That additional energy came from your reserve tank.
Then one day, the tank is empty. You don’t have a back-up plan. When you overdo something, you no longer have a stash of energy or vitality to assist your daily natural resources. You feel like you hit a wall.
You notice this landmark event because that is the day when you start to have significant health issues. That is when you try to push yourself through the day with coffee and just can’t. You find yourself tired all the time and unable to do much more than get up, go to work, and go to sleep. This exhaustion starts pouring into other areas of your life. Too tired to cook, you swing by a fast food restaurant and grab dinner, lunch, or whatever. Receiving none of the necessary ingredients you need to fix and repair your body, you end up more tired. Because sleep takes energy, your sleep starts to deteriorate. The list goes on and on.
And when the reserve tank is empty, it feels like you hit a wall. It’s incredible how much we use and take for granted this reserve. And let’s be real, most people are a little hard-headed. Hard-headed in the sense that you’ve been doing these things your whole life and never had a problem. Why can’t you do them now? So, you keep on doing them, thinking you’ll get a different answer or stubbornly demanding you get a different response.
But when that tank is empty, the wall is an emphatic “no.” No, you can’t do that anymore. The more you try to do the same things, the worse things become. Your daily resources have less and less to help you overcome whatever it is you are doing. You find a negative health cascade starts to happen. You start packing on the weight. It’s more challenging to sleep. You wake up to go to the bathroom. You’re tired all the time. Your blood work starts showing abnormal changes.
Doctors and many people believe all these things are the normal progression of aging. If it is a normal aging progression, nothing you do will improve the situation. All people would have these symptoms.
Now some people have maintained a healthy lifestyle their whole life and have always kept their tank full. As they age, nothing shows up. Or, they came into this world with a pretty big tank. So, even though they’ve played hard, they still do well. They still bounce back.
That alone is the first clue the aging symptoms you are experiencing are not normal signs of aging. Instead, they are a typical sign of exhausting your vitality.
Chinese Medicine has a very different focus from Western Medicine. Where Western Medicine focuses on suppressing the symptom to enable you to continue doing what you are doing, Chinese Medicine focuses on identifying the weakness, targeting behaviors you can modify to rebuild and improve your health.
One of the foundational pillars of Chinese Medicine is Daoism. Longevity is a critical part of Daoism. When I read about Daoism and longevity, the focus was on how to live in balance with your environment. Your environment is your body. So, how to live in harmony with yourself to enhance and prolong your health. Nature was a resource to better understand how to live in harmony. Ancient China created all the herbal formulas, acupuncture, nutrition, meditation, and exercises to support the end goal of keeping your body in harmony to prolong your life.
You usually realize there is a problem when your older, when your tank has been emptied, and now you have a decision to make: do nothing or do something. I have an episode on my Youtube channel, “Why Walking is a Good Thing.” It goes into more of the challenges you face trying to rebuild your health as an older adult. It also goes into a little of the mental mindset you need to rebuild your health when you’re older. Another episode, “Consciously Helping Your Heart Stay Healthy,” shares more wellness coaching tips on what it means to get healthy when you’re older.
The bottom line is getting healthy when you’re older is not about “getting in shape” like losing a few pounds or exercising more. Getting healthy when you are older is about rebuilding your vitality and getting some reserve resources back so you can start enjoying life again.
To give an example, you can do those quick hit things like a fad diet. The minute you lose weight, you stop the diet and start gaining the weight because you didn’t retrain yourself. So, in essence, you gained nothing. And when you’re younger, usually only one part of your health is compromised to the point where it needs attention. When you’re older, multiple aspects of your health need attention, and it is not slightly compromised where a quick week-long fad diet will correct it.
This means you can start rebuilding your vitality by changing something in any of the five causes of disease where losing weight is only useful if you change your diet. And you can’t do this short week or month-long thing and go back to business as usual. Rebuilding your vitality is about taking the time to make the lifestyle changes.
You have two choices. If you’re out here, you’ve usually made a choice to do something. That is the critical thought, “do something.” You don’t have to do everything. So, watch that episode on The Five Causes of Disease in Chinese Medicine and do something in one of those categories. Because the significant change when you are older is your getting healthier lies in each of those changes categories instead of just one.
So, that’s vitality in Chinese Medicine and why normal signs of aging are not normal.