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Blue Zone Longevity Pillar #2 – Which Exercises Are Best for Optimal Health and Longevity?

The first Blue Zone habit is daily exercise. Exercise is what’s known as a keystone habit in that when people exercise consistently it affects all other lifestyle habits. For example they eat healthier, sleep better, are less stressed, and feel a deeper sense of purpose. The body, in most people, will fail before the other systems (brain, heart, etc.) so what does science say about how to exercise for longevity? Here are the top exercise habits from the healthiest and longest living people on earth.

  1. Move as a way of life. Centenarians all over the planet move as a way of life. Exercise is part of everyday life and something that they enjoy well into their last years of life. Plan to increase movement throughout your day. Humans evolved as a species that uses muscles all day long. Now we use elevators and escalators, drive instead of walk, use dishwashers and washing machines, buy our food instead of working to grow it, and hire people to do most of our manual labor. Make a plan to get more movement back into your life.

  2. Do what you love (or like for now). The type of exercise varies greatly but definitely doesn’t have to be extreme! Find something that you will do consistently. Consistency is the key to success and we can only use will power for short term actions. Use will power to get yourself out the door but find something that you enjoy to make it a lifelong habit.

  3. Don’t overdo it. Over exercising not only leads to injury but also releases a cascade of stress hormones. Again moderate consistency is the key to success!

  4. Walk fast for an hour every day. Walking is the most common and simple exercise for longevity. Studies show that consistent, brisk walking increases telomere length and can increase life expectancy by up to 20 years! Remember from our blog on stress and aging that telomeres are like the ends of a shoelace on our DNA strands that protect our cells as they divide over time. As we age, telomeres become shorter, like a candle burning down — shorter telomeres are linked to age-related disease. You don’t need to walk for an hour straight but try to accumulate minutes throughout the day by taking the stairs, parking a ways away from your destinations or by taking a short walk after each meal.

  5. Build muscle. A loss of muscle mass as we age directly correlates with a decrease in all-cause mortality. Exercises that increase muscle mass also increase bone density and decrease our fragility which is one of the leading causes of debilitation and death in the elderly. Putting on muscle as we age also helps with balance and flexibility which are key to preventing injury and maintaining an enjoyable and independent lifestyle.

  6. Bonus Challenge – The Centenarian Olympics. This isn’t from longevity science but I heard it on the Peter Attia Drive Podcast, which I highly recommend. Peter Attia M.D. has dedicated his life to the study of longevity. He came up with a list of exercises that he is determined to be able to maintain throughout his last decade of life and calls it the Centenarian Olympics. Here’s a few of the activities on his list: get up off the floor using just one arm, drop into a squat position and pick up a child that weighs 30 pounds, get out of a pool without a ladder, lifting a 30 lbs suitcase into an overhead bin, and being able to walk up three flights of stairs with 10 lbs of groceries in each hand. He has a total of 18 activities on his list. What a fun and practical way to stay fit and motivated to move every day! So heading into the new year let’s make our own centenarian olympic training plan.

Ask yourself and make a list:

#1. “If I want to live to 100, what do I have to physically be able to do to be satisfied with my life?”

#2. “What are physical tasks that would approximate those things?”

#3. Make a schedule and plan to complete your list at least 3x per week.

We’re in this together!

Happy New Year!

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