There are many factors that can go into a long, healthy life—and what better place to start than by adopting the habits from those already living a long and healthy life? Let’s take a look at the exercise habits practised by people living happily into their hundreds, in parts of the world known as “Blue Zones.”
In the past two articles in this series, we learned about people who live in Blue Zones (areas in the world where there is a high rate of centenarians) and how cultivating a healthy diet and having a purpose are two of the factors that are involved in their longevity.
This series of articles is based on a 2004 study led by author and explorer Dan Buettner. Along with anthropologists, demographers, epidemiologists, and other researchers, Buettner traveled around the world to examine communities with high percentages of people living into their hundreds. They identified the following five spots, now referenced as the “Blue Zones,” where there is a high rate of centenarians:
- Loma Linda, U.S.
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Sardinia, Italy
- Ikaria, Greece
- Okinawa, Japan
Buettner and the researchers found that seniors in these widely separated regions share a number of key habits, despite many differences in backgrounds and beliefs. These universal healthy habits can be broken down into the following:
- Having a healthy diet
- Having a purpose
- Staying active
- Focusing on family/community
This article will focus on the third factor: Staying active.
The Benefits of Frequent Exercise
Exercise can come in many forms and intensities; here are some of its many benefits:
- It can help you live longer. Studies have shown that adults who engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week live longer than inactive adults.
- It can help with weight loss. Exercising isn’t the fix-all to weight loss, but it is definitely part of the equation. Exercise burns calories, which helps you shed some weight.
- It helps build muscle and strong bones. Weight-bearing physical activity helps strengthen muscles and bones.
- It can increase your energy levels and improve your mood. According to studies in people suffering from chronic fatigue, engaging in regular, low-intensity exercise can boost your energy levels by 20 percent and decrease your fatigue by 65 percent.
- It can improve your memory and cognitive ability. Studies show that regular aerobic exercise has been found to protect the memory and boost thinking skills
- It can help you sleep better. Sufficient sleep is essential for optimum health, and it has been shown that exercise can help improve your sleeping habits.
Clearly, there are many important benefits to consistently staying active throughout life. If you’re looking for ways to get in some exercise throughout the day (other than hitting the gym), try these tips from centenarians to stay active.
Many Okinawan centenarians grow or once grew a garden. Gardening is a great practice for the mind, body, and soul; it is also an excellent form of daily physical activity and a potential source of fresh vegetables (which is part of eating healthy, another factor to living a long, healthy life).
You don’t need a green thumb to start gardening—anyone can try it. If you are looking to get started on growing your own garden, check out these tips.
2. Go Outside
The act of going outside, even if just for a walk, is a great way for you to get some exercise. You don’t have to go climb Mt. Everest—simply visiting your local park for a stroll; spending some time running along the beach, river, or lake; or taking your bicycle for a ride to a friend’s house are all great ways to enjoy the soothing effects of the outdoors while also getting in your exercise.
In addition to the exercise, you will also be getting a dose of vitamin D, which your body produces when it’s exposed to sunlight on a regular basis. Vitamin D helps protect against osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain cancers.
3. Use Less Furniture
When there is nowhere to sit, you will have a difficult time falling into a sedentary lifestyle. And since this type of lifestyle can have negative health effects, it’s best to decrease the amount of sitting and lying down that you do.
“The Okinawan household has very little furniture; residents take meals and relax sitting on tatami mats on the floor,” says Buettner. “The fact that old people get up and down off the floor several dozen times daily builds lower-body strength and balance, which help protect against dangerous falls.”
4. Weave Movement into the Day
The Blue Zone communities place a lot of importance on staying active throughout life. Moving constantly—walking, gardening, doing housework—is a core part of their centenarian lifestyle. You won’t see them “hitting the gym” 30 minutes every day to get in their workout—but they are making exercise an integral part of their life as they weave it into things they are already doing.
For example, Okinawan centenarians are active walkers, moving constantly throughout the day. So try to get up and move whenever you can. You can start by choosing stairs over elevators, taking 10-minute walking breaks, taking frequent stretch breaks, and biking instead of driving to work. If you sit behind a desk, set reminders on your calendar to get up and move periodically throughout the day.
Volunteering is not only a great way to stay active, but it also allows you to engage in your community (another factor in living a long, healthy life). Studies have shown that those who volunteer tend to lose weight, have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and demonstrate improvements in mood. Discover what type of volunteering activity you’d enjoy, and then do it!
By staying active and incorporating different forms of exercise and movement into your daily routine like centenarians do, you may be able to increase your likelihood of living a long, healthy life.