Aging and Illness

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Aging is a bit of a touchy subject, at least it is for us here in the West. In our culture, aging is often seen as something unpleasant, something to be “fought”, and generally old age is a place none of us want to be headed. Our view of aging is largely a product of the culture in which we live. In many cultures around the globe, aging is seen as a joyful process, ultimately leading to wisdom that can only come from having had many years under your belt. In many cultures elders are revered and respected for all of the life experience that they have, and all of the knowledge they have acquired. But for us, aging seems to mean one thing - getting sick.

In the West so many things are seen through the lens of disease. Natural processes are treated like illnesses to be conquered and not life processes that are natural and healthy. Aging itself is seen by many as a disease that should be fought and conquered, with the goal of living as long as possible instead of as WELL as possible.

I have treated a lot of senior citizens in clinic, and I have seen over and over again that many accept the aches, pains and discomforts they have because they think they are a natural part of the aging process. In my experience, if you live in a healthy, conscious way, you do not have to resign yourself to feeling crummy, your body hurting, and various diseases taking up residence in a body that instead of being seen to be the beautiful temple that it could be, is seen as a vessel in a slow process of decay.

When you get a cut, does it not heal? Why can we not imagine that the body has this healing capability on every level if we only give it what it needs to accomplish that healing? So much of this is a state of mind, and one that is hugely cultural here in the West. How many times do we hear the doctor say - "well, you have arthritis, that is just part of getting old." And "yes, you have cancer, which, if you live long enough, is inevitable." You do not need to be resigned to ill health because it is what our culture expects. We need to take responsibility for our health, and we cannot do that if we accept sickness because we are getting older.

It is difficult to stay healthy with the same bad habits that brought you to a sick place. If you have eaten badly and not exercised your entire life, of course, something has to change for your body to get well. This is even more important as we age, as our bodies are not as resilient as they were when we were younger.  In Chinese medicine, the yin and yang energies of the body are seen to gradually decline as we age. We may have to work a little harder to keep healthy and maintain that balance, but we are absolutely capable of remaining healthy and active until the end of our lives. You may be wondering, if you lived a hard life, partying, drinking, working long hours and abusing your body how good your chances are of being a healthy senior citizen… well, you might have a little more work to do than someone who lived a more balanced lifestyle as a younger person. But isn’t it worth it to live as well as possible with the life you have left?

seniors and medications

Medications are a wonderful invention and help in many situations, but I find that in our culture and in this time, they are insanely overused. Medications tend to treat symptoms, meaning that they will need to be taken forever and will never resolve the problem. This is not a solution, it is a band aid. Chinese medicine always endeavors to find the root of the problem so that it can be corrected. All modalities are tools used to reach this goal. Once the root is discovered and corrected using acupuncture, Chinese herbs, moxibustion, nutritional therapy, etc.. then the symptoms disappear and health is restored.

Getting Back to Health

So how do we get back to health? Of course, we all want to be healthy, happy beings. But there are things we must do to make that happen. It is entirely our responsibility to keep healthy, and we should know that we have that power. Everyone at every age has this ability, but I think that a lot of people believe that as we get older, we will all get sick, it is just a matter of time. Prescribing medications for every symptom is certainly not going to help, but you have to know that you are in charge of your health. It is up to you, you don’t have to be sick.

So what can we do as we get older to make sure we are staying as healthy as we can? They are the same things we do when we are younger. As we age though, the body is not as resilient as it once was. This means that it is all the more important that we take good care of ourselves. Here are some suggestions…

eat clean food

Eat Clean Food

Eating clean, natural foods is important at any age, but sometimes becomes harder as we get older as we sometimes have less energy to shop and cook - but once you start eating fresh, natural foods that are grown in season, you will see how amazing and full of energy you feel!

sleep for health


Sleep is the time the body uses to repair itself. Even though as we get older sleep can sometimes become more difficult, getting enough rest is an important way for the body to repair itself and build the reserves it needs to get through the day.


Drink Clean Water

The body is more than 70% water, and that water needs to be supplemented constantly as it is very important for all of the body’s processes. Staying hydrated will give you energy, help you to think clearly and keep toxins moving out of the body.

health and aging

Move Your Body

One thing I often hear my senior patients say is that moving has become more difficult because of aches and pains. This is a common complaint, so I tell them acupuncture is an excellent way to relieve pain, and pain is seen as stagnation in the body, a blockage of the flow. Acupuncture is very moving, and able to unblock these stagnations, but moving the body does this as well, things like walking, yoga, qi gong and tai chi are all wonderful ways to move energy and help keep things flowing to keep pain at a minimum.

positive thinking for health

Positive Thinking

A positive attitude has been proven to be a very important part of a persons overall health. Getting older can be fraught with difficulties, especially if you are not feeling well and depression and grief are common in seniors. But making a conscious effort to be positive and in an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness will do wonders for your health and wellbeing, and make you feel better from the inside out.

Although it is difficult to undo unhealthy behaviours from the past - staying up late, working long hours, drinking too much, copious drug use (prescription and otherwise), do you not want to enjoy the life that you have left? I believe, and the Chinese medical model suggests, that you are at the helm of the ship that is your health. If you eat well, drink clean water, sleep, exercise, express your emotions, and have a happy inner life then you can be a healthy, happy individual, at any age.

health and aging in Chinese medicine