If you want to be as healthy as possible, there are no treadmills or weight machines required. Don’t just take my word for it — look to the longest-lived people in the world for proof. People in the world’s Blue Zones— the places around the world with the highest life expectancy — don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without even thinking about it. This means that they grow gardens, walk throughout the day, and minimize mechanical conveniences for house and yard work. In fact, Blue Zones researchers determined that routine natural movement is one of the most impactful ways to increase your life span, and a common habit among the world’s longest-lived populations.
Of course this might not seem realistic in our current knowledge economy, where we’re often tied to a desk and in front of a computer screen all day. Moving naturally throughout the day might sound pleasant and romantic, but the reality is that 100 years ago only 10% of us had sedentary jobs, whereas today it’s 90%. However, there are still easy ways to add more movement into your busy lifestyle. One of the best ways to do this is to use an active mode of transportation. This could mean walking your kids to school, walking or biking to the grocery store, to a friend’s house, or out to dinner. Ideally you could walk or bike to work as well (or walk/bike to the bus or train station, if that’s more feasible). Research shows that the best work commute you can have is a 15-minute walk each way, but any physical activity built in along your commute is a plus. On the flip side, the daily car commute is the number two thing Americans hate the most on a daily basis, behind only housework (but maybe housework would be more enjoyable if you reminded yourself of the life-extending natural movement involved!). If active transportation isn’t possible in your community, you can still find time to go out for a walk. A recent study from the American Cancer Society revealed that walking for six hours per week resulted in a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and cancer than not being active at all. But the research also showed that walking even as little as two hours per week could reduce the risk of disease and help you live longer. Walking is also great medicine for your mind. A daily walk could reduce the risk of dementia by 40%, according to Anders Hansen, a physician and psychiatry specialist from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. If long walks aren’t your thing, break it up by taking several smaller walks per day instead (five minutes per hour). Make it a point to stand at your desk, or at least get up and move around regularly throughout the day. Get outside at lunch for some fresh air.
The bottom line is that our bodies were designed to move. And that doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym. You don’t need to lift heavy weights or grind through high intensity interval workouts to live a long and healthy life. Simple, natural movement can be even more impactful. Do as the world’s centenarians do — move naturally.