Lifestyle, dietary & exercise advice

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on the view that the body is interconnected. Due to this interconnectedness, all symptoms are related. For example, muscle tension could be related to diet, sleep, stress, emotion or other factors. It is an imbalance of these lifestyle factors that is the cause of all health complaints. Therefore it is the regular everyday things that most help maintain this ‘balance’ (Yin, Yang) or health of the body. These lifestyle areas can easily be understood as the way the human body ‘recharges’, but Chinese medicine principles about this idea can seem slightly different to what we’re used to.

These basics of a healthy lifestyle are:

  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Adequate rest and relaxation
  • Good mental attitude.


While we are bombarded with many different and often-changing points of view about a healthy diet, food affects our health much more than the medicine we take. In Chinese medicine, diet is a key factor in maintaining health or recovering from illness.

Chinese medicine classifies food according to its energetic effects (such as warming and nourishing / cooling and eliminating) rather than just its nutritional parts. Patients are always advised to eat seasonal, unprocessed foods where possible and include multiple colours and flavours of a variety of healthy foods according to their individual constitution, ability to digest, and need for building certain deficiencies or decreasing an unwanted excess of “sometimes foods” (highly processed/ high sugar/ fats or toxic e.g. alcohol).

Due to this some foods may be seen as beneficial for some patients but unfavourable for others.


Moderate exercise (not too much and not too little) is an important factor, as physical activities are beneficial to the flow of Qi (energy) and blood, helping to maintain the body. Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong are commonly recommended along with other exercises like swimming, walking, jogging and going to the gym.

TCM advises different types of exercise based on the individual patient’s constitution. Sometimes certain exercises should be avoided if too strenuous for recently ill or injured patients, and replaced with more suitable exercises like walking or Qi Gong.

Adequate rest and relaxation

Another essential, easy-to-understand principle is getting regular adequate sleep. Being sleep-deprived or having disturbed sleep patterns – whether actual sleep difficulties, shift work, or constant self-inflicted late nights – can weaken the body’s self-maintenance abilities, impact everyday function and can eventually cause illness.

Proper rest restores the body and mind, helping to maintain health and strengthen the body’s ability to resist disease. A balance between work, exercise, play and rest is something everyone needs. TCM principles also encourage stress reduction with relaxation through hobbies; appropriate socialising, exercise, and quality self-time help maintain balance.

Finally, TCM recommends conserving energy through understanding seasonal influences on body rhythms by modifying levels of activity appropriately (e.g. being more active in warmer months, but less active and more protective against exposure to weather in winter).

Good mental attitude

While TCM places a high value on diet and nutrition, it is also important to note “You are what you think.”

In TCM, specific emotions relate to specific organ systems. Negative emotions can directly impact the way an organ functions (especially digestion). Emotions like fear, anger, constant worry and overthinking are particularly disruptive if you experience them constantly. This is like a junk food diet for the mind. These affect your body’s ability to maintain balance. Mental stress-reduction through harmonious body, mind, and spirit activities like yoga, Qi Gong, meditation, and deep breathing exercises have long been used to help maintain a positive mindset.

Remember, in TCM, prevention is key. Making appropriate lifestyle choices means making good choices every day that enhance health and help prevent disease. Many health factors are in our individual control, through quality food choices, moderate exercise, restorative sleep, positive mindset, minimising toxins and stress management.

Research demonstrates that many chronic diseases are largely caused by lifestyle choices and habits. The important principle of preventive health care is that one can use lifestyle to bring about balance and health.

For further reading:

Good Life Habits According to Chinese Medicine – Shen-Nong