Western populations may learn a few important lesson by looking at common lifestyle practices in Asia. Many Asian countries have long-standing traditions and practices that are equated with better health. Their success is evident in population statistics. Japan is one of the healthiest and longest-lived of all industrialized nations, with above average numbers of people living over 100 years and an average lifespan for women of 87 years. A person does not have to live in Asia to practice and benefit from many of their lifestyle habits. They can be incorporated into just about anyone’s life at any age.
Balancing Mind, Body and Spirit
While Asian medicine does benefit from and use modern science, it still holds to many of its traditional beliefs about the cause of sickness and disease. It is a culture that has successfully integrated these modern practices with traditional treatments. Even in scientific circles, the benefits of many of these traditional medicines have been evaluated with approval, at least as an adjunct treatment.
A key component of traditional Asian medicine is the idea of balance within the body and the correct flow of energies. Especially important is the balance and focus on all parts of a person, including mind, body and spirit. Even without a deep understanding of a traditional practice or style of medicine, this idea of balance and considering all of the parts of yourself is important. Other resources may call this physical, mental and spiritual health. All three of these aspects are important for being healthy and happy, and a problem with any of them can lead to illness. Many people stop only at the body, a few people may consider the body and mind, but rarely does the common westerner look at all three together.
There are many ways to incorporate this practice and belief with both Asian and western techniques. Physical health may focus on diet and exercise. Mental health may focus on meditation, journaling or counseling. Spiritual health may focus on religion or other spiritual practices or just coming to a good understanding of what you truly believe and value.
Diet of Seafood, Fermented Foods and Vegetables
Japanese diets consist of a greatly above average amount of seafood. This includes fish like sushi, but also an abundance of seaweed and ocean vegetables. This type of diet is strongly linked to health and longevity. Fatty fish contain more omega-3s, are a good source of quality protein and often have other health benefits not associated with chicken or beef. Seaweed is loaded with a number of beneficial nutrients, including potassium and iodine that can be difficult to obtain from other fruits and vegetables. The best part is that a relatively small portion of these foods conveys the best benefits.
Fermented foods such as miso and natto are also a traditional part of Japanese cuisine. These foods also have above average health benefits. Fermented foods of any kind are good for gut bacteria. This helps boost the immune system and ease digestion.
A diet rich in whole foods and fruits and vegetables is common throughout Asia. In India and China, especially in rural areas, meat consumption is kept to a minimum, and most of the diet consists of rice and vegetables. This results in a nutrient-rich, low-fat diet also linked to health and longevity.
Baths in Natural Springs
The Japanese islands contain many natural hot springs. Frequent bathing in natural springs is a common activity for the Japanese. Modern science has shown a multitude of health benefits related to the practice, including significant improvements in joint and skin health and relaxation and mood. Even if you don’t live in Hokkaido, Japan, natural mineral and hot springs can be found throughout the world. They are especially common in mountainous and volcanic areas.
Getting Out in Nature
Asian cultures generally have a great affinity for nature and take more opportunities to get outside and enjoy natural surroundings. While many Asian cities are crowded sprawls, and pollution is a problem in many places due to heavy industrialization, an appreciation for nature still pervades the culture. In China and the Japanese islands, many carefully preserved natural spaces are lovingly maintained and visited regularly for relaxation and meditative purposes.
There is plenty of scientific and anecdotal evidence that supports incorporating more nature into one’s life. It tends to promote relaxation and inner peace. It also increases the vital connection humans have to the planet and their natural surroundings. Take a break from the crowded chaos of civilization and enjoy what the planet itself has to offer.
Tai Chi is a Chinese practice that involves slow and low-intensity movements performed in a precise pattern called a form. Most forms are based on natural elements or animals of some sort. Tai Chi has been studied both culturally and scientifically, and even the Harvard Medical School has found significant health benefits related to the practice. It tends to promote both physical strength and health along with mental and emotional health in a way that few other forms of exercise can match. It is also very accessible to someone of any age of fitness level and can even be adapted for many disabilities.
There is little doubt that Asian cultures and practices have something important to teach the world about how to live healthier and happier. These traditions have developed over many generations. Despite their age, they still receive positive scientific attention and backing in the modern day, and they are worth exploring regardless of a person’s cultural background.