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Retiring in the UK
When people retire in the UK they are often encouraged to remain active. A common habit is to become embroiled in ceaseless activity. This can take many forms.
People become frenetic and competitive. Manic activity can result in high blood pressure, heightened stress and anxiety. The quest for relevance and personal validation often does more harm then good.
Sitting is more dangerous than
smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than
parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death. The chair is out to kill us.
(Professor James Levine, The Mayo Clinic)
Punishing the body
Some people attend the gym having never exercised before...
They are given a dumbbell for the first time in their life and persuaded by a 20 year old personal trainer to perform a series of strenuous exercises.
The activity is mentally unstimulating, the 'motivational' music is too loud, their body is unaccustomed to gym work.
If they are fortunate the individual becomes bored and stops training. If they persist they may get a rotator cuff injury.
On the road
The same trend can be seen with running or cycling.
Instead of learning (from an expert) how to run in a healthy, age appropriate manner... the pensioner launches clumsily into a regime that punishes the body, aggravates the knees and harms the spine.
Most cyclists can be seen using off-road bicycles on the roads, peddling hard but getting nowhere.
A modern folly is to push harder when an obstacle is encountered. This attitude is applied to aging too. People retire from work only to find for themselves an abundance of new work.
Remaining active is advisable, but pushing/over-doing it is foolish.
In the book The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking an alternative is suggested: instead of pushing harder, try something else. Change. Whilst intelligent, this is hardly new.
Taoism and tai chi have advocated this same approach for centuries.
The drawbacks of exercise
Not all forms of exercise are necessarily good for you. For example, running may improve cardiovascular health but is also very hard on the joints.
Lifting heavy weights can cause significant tension to accumulate and - if the muscles are large enough - adversely affect the skeleton. Most forms of exercise have pros and cons; especially sport.
Ideal form of exercise
According to the book The Blue Zones it is important to think of exercise in terms of what you can reasonably do long-term.
The ideal form of exercise is moderate enough that you can do it for the rest of your life. It needs to be joint-friendly, provide a gentle workout and be sustainable.
This sounds rather like tai chi, doesn't it?
Tai chi can help
Avoid/offset the common problems associated with modern life:
• Memory loss
• Stiff neck
• Lack of mindfulness
• Low energy
• Reduced sex drive
• No peace of mind
• Diminished brain activity
• Poor focus/concentration
• Sarcopenia (muscle loss with aging)
• Reduced joint function
• Bad circulation
• Heart problems
• Respiratory problems
• Poor lower body strength
• Imbalanced body use
• Reduced stamina and endurance
• Deeply-held muscular tension
• Poor awareness
• Poor sleep
• Limited flexibility/suppleness
• Bad coordination
• Not relaxed
• Bad poise and posture
• Too much sitting
• Reduced mobility
• Back problems
• Knee problems
• Poor condition
• Loss of manual dexterity in the fingers
• Lack of ambidexterity
• Sports injuries
Medical research has proven that a small daily commitment to tai chi practice can produce tremendous results over time. The training is concerned with re-energising the body.
Understand rather than accumulate
Another Taoist approach adopted by The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking is to look deeper into things. This runs contrary to the attitude of acquisition.
Understanding ensures interest. It encourages curiosity and can be the wellspring for new ideas and unknown directions.
A trend for Western retirees is global travelling. In contrast with this, Taoism advocates seeing what is right in front of you. Rather than do more and more, begin to see.
It will serve to keep the brain healthy. Having genuine wisdom is better than boasting/bragging/self-promotion. Insight is worth more than commodities/experiences.
Immaturity is the craving
for greater and wider experience.
Not many people in the UK live to be 100 years old but in Asia it is far more common. How come? Asia sees aging differently to the UK.
In ancient China, Taoist sages searched for different ways to prolong life, maintain youth, fitness and vitality. They developed a wide variety of anti-aging exercises.
Tai chi is a product of this quest for rejuvenation.
Not too much, not too little... Rather than adopt a frantic lifestyle, the ancient Chinese advocated a healthy, modest, varied diet. Activity was measured, calm and relaxed.
Mental health was encouraged through constructive study, meditation and contemplation. Emotions are settled; with an avoidance of stress and extremes.
Little and often
Instead of hammering the body with harsh activity (exercise or physical labour), the Taoists learned to move more gently and carefully.
Controlled, balanced, intelligent use of the body encouraged longer life. Little and often was the mantra rather than "no pain, no gain".
In modern times Japan has more centenarians than any other country. What do the 100 year old Japanese people do?
Moderate daily level of exercise (often tai chi or yoga)
A lot of everyday walking or modest cycling
Psychological and emotional wellbeing is highly valued
An active family/community life
No smoking or drugs
Low alcohol intake
Balanced mental attitude - not getting stressed about things
Interested in things
Balance activity and rest
The ancient masters
The depths of their wisdom were unfathomable,
so all we have are descriptions of how they looked...
Careful, as if crossing a frozen river.
Alert, as if aware of danger.
Respectful, like a guest.
Yielding, like melting ice.
Simple, like a valley.
Trying to understand
is like straining to see through muddy water.
Be still, and allow the mud to settle.
Remain still, until it is time to act.
Those who follow Tao don't seek to arrive anywhere,
so their journey is never over.
Japanese eating habits
The natural, healthy diet of Okinawan Japanese people is modest and simple by Western standards:
Primarily plant based diet (though not necessarily vegetarian)
Eating a diverse selection of vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and pulses
Only eat until 80% full
Eat a larger meal earlier in the day with smaller meals as the day progresses
Low salt intake
Low sugar intake
Low dairy intake
No processed foods
If you have just eaten and still feel hungry, allow time for the food to settle
Organic food is preferable
Raw food is preferable
High water intake
Only eat when hungry
Take your time when eating; chew slowly and thoroughly
Keep meal times
Dr Michael Greger (author of How Not To Die) recommends 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day.
The three doctors who wrote The Okinawa Program maintain that tai chi - with its ancient origins and incredible health benefits - is the ideal form of exercise for modern people.
Page created 8 May 1997
Last updated 16 June 2023