Posted on Mar 15, 2013 by Mike Peterson
Tips from Chinese farmers on how to remain healthy with exercise, activity and diet.
Get outside for exercise everyday, do some cardio, cut back on processed foods, dairy and fats, drink more water, drink green tea, ride a bike instead of driving a car, eat more vegetables, watch less TV, spend less time in front of the computer. We hear all of these suggestions constantly when talking about little changes that can be made to live a healthier lifestyle, but, do they really work?
For the answer, consider an example from an unlikely source: the Chinese farmer.
Certainly, most Chinese farmers are not health fanatics. In fact, it would be pretty difficult to find a fitness club or workout center in most parts of rural China, yet Chinese farmers, and most other laborers in China for that matter, tend to exhibit generally good physical health. More impressive still is that this is the case despite some significant disadvantages to maintaining good health in the country.
Largely due to lack of education, a high percentage of Chinese men, farmers and laborers included, smokes tobacco. China also has a high occurrence of alcohol abuse and addiction among males in the country. Additionally, the high rate of accidents related to farming and less than optimal availability of good healthcare in many parts of China pose real health risks. So China, like all countries worldwide, still has areas of public health that can benefit from attention and improvement.
Nevertheless, consider a few areas of a Chinese farmer's life that all of us would do well to adopt into our regular routine.
Physical Exertion and Exercise
Chinese farming is not renowned for reliance on mechanized farming, and as a result planting, cultivating and harvesting are still largely done by hand. This means carrying lots of supplies and materials to and from the fields and greenhouses, hoeing weeds, picking vegetables, and hauling them to market for sale - every day.
Doctors recommend at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day for most people. The average Chinese farmer easily gets this and then some. The result is a healthier heart, lower body fat index, and improved strength and flexibility.
The solution isn't necessarily to dig up your back yard and plant a few rows of vegetables, though that is a possibility, but rather to look for ways to incorporate more exercise into your daily routine, such as walking or biking to nearby destinations rather than driving. Also consider doing a few minutes of exercise in between tasks when you have downtime, and lifting some sort of weight a few times everyday.
In recent years, China has undergone a food revolution, with both positive and negative results. A much wider variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, increased availability of meat and dairy products, and even an abundance of fast food options has definitely provided more choices for dining, but it has also resulted in more bad food options to be had.
In rural China, however, a lot of these choices have not yet become widely available. Farmers and laborers still mostly eat what is grown locally and seasonally, and the majority of it is picked fresh and home-cooked. Since meat is not a main ingredient of every dish, tofu and vegetables served raw, steamed, boiled or stir fried make up a major part of the Chinese farmer's daily fare. With a diet like that, it is easy to see how a 30 to 50 year old male could easily reach his healthy intake of roughly 5,000 grams of mixed vegetables and fruits for the week.
Furthermore, the tradition of drinking a few cups of tea per day, particularly after meals, also has health benefits because whole leaf tea is very high in antioxidants and promotes digestion and bowel function.
Of course, the typical Chinese farmer’s diet includes a large intake of starch, which is not appropriate for everyone. Bleached flour and rice, both common staples in China and a part of almost every meal, flood the body with simple carbohydrates. Still, given the amount of work that has to get done, a farmer is easily able to burn the carbohydrates in these foods during the day, using them as energy rather than allowing them to turn to fat.
Fresh air and time spent outside make everyone feel better and more alive. While many people's modern lives and work environments don't allow as much time to enjoy outdoor activities as they would like, getting outside to take in some fresh air and soak up sunshine each day is important.
Most Chinese farmers don't have the luxury of deciding to only go outside when the weather suits them, but lucky for them, the majority of their time spent outside has significant health benefits.
Sunlight causes the body to metabolize vitamin D, which promotes strong bones and helps reduce the risk of cancer. Vitamin D is also linked to reducing depression, and helps control insulin which moderates sugar levels in the body and prevents diabetes and obesity. Being outside in a natural environment is also the best source of clean air, since plants take in carbon dioxide and release pure oxygen, meaning that a walk through the fields or forest is actually very good for your lungs and circulation. Walking outdoors is also a health benefit to the body, because moving over moderately uneven surfaces actually promotes joint function, bone alignment, flexibility and dexterity, better balance, and good posture.
Finally, just as the Chinese frequently say everyone should look at something green everyday to promote inner balance and calm, it also turns out that spending time outdoors is good for your eyes since it forces them to focus and refocus on both close and distant objects, thus preventing premature nearsightedness.
Fit For Life
This article is in no way claiming that the Chinese farming community is the healthiest demographic of people in the world; instead it is simply pointing out the legitimate health benefits that can be found in an average Chinese farmer's daily routine. Farmers haven't necessarily discovered the secret to a longer life, but rather, they can simply serve as an example of how to feel healthier throughout life.
Therefore, it is best for everyone to consider not how they can abandon their current lifestyle to become a farmer for their health, but rather to encourage you look for realistic areas where you can adjust your present lifestyle to promote better health through good choices and better routines.