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China's Secret To A Long Life

I'm Barry Petersen, and this Letter from Asia comes from Beijing.

Any traveler to China comes back with tales of morning exercise. Go to a park or city square and you will see them. The people who exercise pretty much every day because they believe it's the way to the good life.

For some, it's tai chi, the slow moving of the body. And usually people gather first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon. Music can come from something as simple as a tape recorder.

"I do it to keep healthy, to live longer and longer," one man told me.

There is one thing that is hard to miss; these are mostly older people.

"Young people would rather sleep," Ms. Zhang joked.

But something else is happening and it's not good. Call it the American disease.

First are the immensely popular fast food places that have sprouted all over. And where bicycles were once the favored way of getting around, a new prosperity makes getting a car every family's dream. But it also means sitting and sitting in traffic jams that get worse almost daily.

The result: More than one in five adults in China is now overweight. And almost one in five has high blood pressure, putting them at risk for heart disease and diabetes.

It's not like we needed convincing, but we sure got it when we visited with Mrs. Wang. She lives in Quongqing and does her tai chi every day. And ready, at the youthful age of 92, to teach a visiting reporter the Chinese two-step.

And every morning across China, a few twirls are par for the course for an older generation that has yet to persuade the next generation of the wisdom in that old adage: use it, or loose it.
by Barry Petersen