Sunday, October 28, 2012

Basics of Rest vs. Exercise

I've been dealing with a cold for the past couple of weeks. The only symptom I have left is extreme fatigue, and that is finally easing off, too. I try to use any health problems that turn up to put myself in my patients' shoes so I can serve them better. My fatigue for the past few weeks made me think about the balance of rest and exercise.

Many people who come into my clinic are tired. Really, really tired. Sometimes they aren't sleeping well, but some sleep fine. Usually a well-meaning friend or medical practitioner recommends they exercise to improve their energy. Again, for some this does the trick. Others say "Exercise only made me more tired. Should I keep exercising, even if it exhausts me?"

Chinese medicine sees fatigue as coming from either excess or deficiency. Fatigue from excess conditions is usually accompanied by boredom, frustration, and seems to improve when you're doing something fun. If it is from an excess of dampness, or phlegm (usually caused by poor digestion and/or poor food choices) you will also have heavy headedness, extreme lassitude, and the ability to sleep for hours and hours without feeling rested.

Fatigue that is from an excess condition usually improves dramatically with exercise. Excess conditions means there is too much of something--thoughts, dampness, stagnation, stress--that makes your body malfunction. The energy you would normally use to accomplish things is stuck, so you can't use it. You feel fatigued, but usually find it improves when you force yourself to move.

Fatigue from deficiency, on the other hand, is the opposite. You have exhausted your available energy. Sleep does help, but not enough to feel full of energy. Usually, you'll have no interest in life or food. You aren't bored, and you're just as tired when you are doing something fun as you are in stressful situations.

Trying to exercise when you are in this kind of fatigue is disasterous. You deplete your already perilously low stores of energy, and feel even worse. Only the mildest exercise, preferably some kind of yoga or qi gong, is adviseable.

How do you treat this kind of fatigue? First, rest as much as possible. Eliminate all stress, as much as you are able. Eat simple foods--broth-based soups, steamed vegetables, small portions of meat. Seek out an acupuncturist or herbalist trained in treating fatigue. And don't try to work through it. Sometimes being tired really does mean you just have to rest.

Thanks to Col6085 at stock.xchng for the use of the photo.

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