Run for Your Life?
How Strenuous Western Forms of Exercise Impact Heart Health
Cardiovascular exercise is good for you—or is it? Now that a new paradigm has emerged in the midst of mainstream Western medicine, one that views the individual as a whole being with body, mind, and spirit interconnected and supported by an underlying energy system, isn’t it time to take a closer look at those strenuous, sweat-it-out exercise routines?
“Cardiovascular” means “pertaining to the heart and blood vessels.” “Exercise” refers to “bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness.” If Western scientific studies have proved that negative mental and emotional states are stronger predictors of coronary artery and heart disease than many physical factors, and modalities like stress reduction actually decrease the risk of heart problems more effectively than routine cardiac care, doesn’t it make sense to exercise in a different way—one that really creates heart health?
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a real issue with cardio exercise. First of all, there’s the sweat. In TCM, one of the functions of the Heart organ network is to control body fluids. Sweat or perspiration is considered the “fluid” of the Heart, and so if you sweat a lot you are actually unbalancing the Qi, or energy, of your Heart. In the case of perspiring too much and losing too many body fluids, you are creating an energy deficiency of the Heart, which can prevent this organ system from functioning well.
Then there’s the issue of the tendons and ligaments. These areas of your body are completely dependent upon sufficient blood from the Liver to nourish them. Strenuous and excessive exercise, such as intense aerobic and running workouts, is hard on the joints—the tendons and ligaments.
Think about what’s happening inside your body from a different perspective: when you overwork your joints, the Liver has to send more blood to help restore or repair them. On a continual basis, this scenario depletes the Liver’s energy.
And this state is especially problematic for women because the Liver is an extremely important organ in terms of women’s health. It’s a fact that excessive exercise can cause a woman’s period to stop completely. The close relationship between the tendons and the Liver is the reason why. In TCM’s Five Element theory, the Liver is the “mother” of the Heart (the “child”), meaning the Liver supports and nourishes the Heart with its energy. If the mother becomes depleted, how can the child have vibrant health?
More essentially, TCM sees intense physical exercise as spending precious Qi that is very difficult to replace. From the TCM perspective, strenuous, sweat-inducing exercise does not create true health—either Heart health or health in general. Consider for a moment: What is missing from your body once you are dead? Qi, or vital life energy, is the key component. Wouldn’t it make sense then, to pursue a form of exercise that actually increases this life-giving, life-enhancing energy instead of using it up?
Meditation, for instance, has been shown to create positive changes in the areas of the brain linked with emotion. It also increases immune function and blood flow, decreases blood pressure, and generally lowers heart rate.
What Eastern masters have known intuitively for thousands of years is that systems like Qigong, Taiji, yoga, and meditation actually create health from the inside out. These forms of movement are slow (if not stationary), peaceful and resonate with the water-like frequency of the body.
It’s interesting that well-trained athletes can have exceptional difficulty holding the most basic Qigong postures for more than a few minutes. What’s going on when this happens? It is the quantity and quality of internal energy that is lacking. And from the Eastern perspective, the TCM perspective, Qi is the origin of true strength and power as well as genuine health—body, mind, and spirit.