New trends arise as young people try to compensate for irregular lifestyles

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When did yangsheng—the concept of health and cultivation of health—become popular among young people in China? China's top search engine Baidu points to 2017 being a crucial year.

That year, the trending topics ranged from Emmanuel Macron becoming the French president to the competition between computer program AlphaGo and Chinese champion Ke Jie, in which AlphaGo defeated its human challenger. The ninth most researched and discussed topic was "people born after 1990 losing hair."

Wang Lei, a 28-year-old programmer in Shanghai, was one of the people asking that question on the Internet. He started working that year and became aware of work stress-related hair fall for the first time after seeing some colleagues facing the problem.

"Though there is no hair loss problem in my family genes, still, I thought I should guard against potential loss caused by work pressure. So I have started checking out the chemical components when I buy shampoo and my friends recommended vitamins and mineral supplements that are good for the hair," he told Beijing Review.

Later, to relieve eye fatigue, he added cod liver oil to his diet and then regular liver detoxes. "Besides spending nearly 1,000 yuan ($153.7) on healthcare supplements each month, I spend more on neck and shoulder massages and foot treatment," he said.

These give him psychological comfort as he usually stays up late and eats take-outs. When his gym workout is repeatedly disrupted by work, he thinks the regimen helps him maintain equilibrium.

Today, health preservation has become a trend among the youth who do many things to improve their physical conditions and prevent health crises. However, they may not all be healthy practices.

To Wang and his friends, medical examinations are a nightmare. They force them to wake up to the rude reality that they could be suffering from impaired vision, obesity, weakened immunity and skin problems due to their irregular lifestyle, unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.

Most of them have an increasing share of work and personal life responsibilities, accompanied by increasing pressure and fears for the future. These factors make them invest more in health maintenance.

Aging anxiety

According to a survey by, a website for medical professionals to share knowledge and experiences, people born between 1990 and 2000 had the lowest health self-evaluation score in 2020. Those nearing the age of 25 showed the highest anxiety, fearing their body functions would decline after 33. It indicates anxiety about aging is another reason young people are seeking yangsheng.

Ma Ke, 25, is a first-year graduate student studying education in Nanjing, east China. To her, the turning point for women is 30, so they should take care of their physical health as soon as possible to slow down aging.

"I focus on both skincare and my physical condition. I use cosmetics from reputed brands, take nutritional supplements, and work out in the gym. I also adjust my diet and daily routine according to the seasons, which is a principle of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)," she said.

Earlier she used to ignore her mother's advice based on TCM principles, thinking TCM was for the elderly. But she changed her mind after realizing that preventive treatment of diseases is part of TCM.

Now, she eats snacks containing ingredients used in TCM, such as black sesame balls, which are said to boost the qi, regarded as the vital life force in Chinese philosophy.

With more young people drawn to health fads, a new concept called punk yangsheng has emerged. The trend is popular among Chinese in their 20s and 30s. Referring to punk music, the genre of music characterized by rebellion and a free spirit, it means squeezing healthy habits into the day to make up for unhealthy habits.

For instance, many young Chinese do not go to bed early and, consequently, do not get enough sleep. So they take various supplements and use expensive facial masks to repair the damage caused by the habit.

However, medical experts caution that young people, including Wang and Ma, who are sedentary for long periods at study or work and spend too much time on their smartphones, face detrimental effects that cannot be reduced by hot tea with goji berry, wolfberry that is believed to have restorative powers.

Su Quanxi from the China Association of Chinese Medicine said the trend is not healthy and does more harm than good. He told Global Times that though goji berries have health benefits, they can't reverse the damage already done to one's liver through imbibing excessive alcohol.

"Yangsheng is not about chasing trends. It's a scientific way of life and a positive attitude toward life. Methods such as punk Yangsheng are like saying 'first kill me and then try to heal me,' which will do absolutely no good," Su said.

Innovative food

The Tongrentang Group, a well-known TCM pharmacy started in 1669 in Beijing, opened two cafes in Beijing in 2019, targeting young consumers with their beverages and healthcare services. Their coffees, containing TCM ingredients, became popular among young people.

For instance, the hawthorn and dried tangerine peel Americano is one of their most popular products. According to TCM theory, hawthorn and dried tangerine peels aid digestion and boost blood circulation.

Su Xiaohang, senior operation manager of Zhima Health, a retail brand established by Tongrentang, said that young people like new and fashionable things and the cafes bring them a fresh and healthy experience. For example, instead of using sugar, goji berry is used to sweeten bread and coffee.

This East-West fusion is a good selling point alluring young customers. The Tongrentang cafes sell over 1,000 cups of coffee daily. Su Xiaohang said their products are designed to meet young people's consumption and living habits.

The yangsheng trend among young people has created unexpected profits for TCM brands. For example, famous TCM producers like Fanghuichuntang, a TCM pharmacy started in 1649 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province in the east, have launched "healthy snacks" in small packages that are easy to carry. Some companies that produce vitamins and mineral supplements have changed their dietary supplements from tablets and capsules to jellies and marshmallows.

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