We all know that eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly are key to protecting health and lifespan. However, sometimes the demands of busy, modern life can get in the way of our best exercise intentions. With the New Year, it is time to prioritise your health and improve your longevity with these easy-at-home workouts.
Longevity, or living for longer in good health, involves an interplay of lifespan and health span and is determined by three main factors: genetic, environmental and lifestyle. Lifespan is defined as the length of time individuals can live for and varies by sex, location, lifestyle and socioeconomic factors, to name but a few. The maximum human lifespan is estimated to be between 120-150 years, although this upper limit has not yet been achieved with the longest living people in the world commonly reaching 120 years .
Health span is also important to longevity, as it is undesirable to extend our lifespan without also extending the years we enjoy good health. As we age, our health, fitness and strength gradually decline and the risk of developing age-related diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer increases . This is because the body accumulates molecular and cellular damage over time. Therefore, the primary goal of the longevity industry is to improve health and delay aging in order to achieve longevity. While genetic and environmental factors are influential, how we live everyday influences how long we can expect to live for. Making lifestyle changes and taking initiative over our own health is the most effective way to control our longevity.
Benefits of exercise to health and lifespan
Considering that physical inactivity is a major risk factor for cardio- and cerebrovascular diseases, the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in high-income countries, exercise is key to improving longevity. The current guidelines recommend a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate- or vigorous-intensity exercise, ideally a combination of both, as well as twice-weekly strength resistance training. The benefits of exercise are well-documented: physical activity reduces major mortality risk factors including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer.
This translates into a 30% decrease in all-cause mortality. Exercise is associated with higher life expectancy of an estimated 0.4-6.9 years in people who are physically active compared with those who are inactive. Crucially, exercise is associated with an increase in healthy life expectancy, as well as just life expectancy. Exercise is additionally thought to protect against Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative conditions by improving the functioning of the synapse, the connection between neurons that is essential to healthy cognition.
It can also improve mood and concentration by releasing endorphins. The mechanisms underlying the effect of physical activity on health and lifespan have long been speculated. Exercise reduces coronary artery calcium resulting in lower risk of vascular diseases. It also tests the endurance of cells and tissues by placing them under oxidative stress, energy metabolism and vascularisation .
Working out from home
Since it is common knowledge that exercise is beneficial to health, it is surprising that 80% of people in the United States do not exercise enough . With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many people remain consigned to working or studying from home. While good for public health, sitting sedentary at a desk for 8 hours is not so beneficial for our physical fitness. We have compiled a list of easy at-home exercises for working out while you are working from home.
- Walking. While not strictly working out from home, taking a break from your desk and walking around interrupts the time spend sitting. Daily walks lasting even 10 minutes can benefit health and longevity. Walking is especially effective before or after meals, as it reduces postprandial blood sugar levels and increases insulin sensitivity . It is therefore worthwhile walking the short trip to the supermarket during your lunch hour, while carrying heavy shopping bags could be considered as mild strength training. Also try doing lunch hour laps around your garden or local green space, alternating between power walking, jogging and lunges. Combining walks with socialising by inviting a friend can provide motivation as well as making you more accountable to sticking to a regular exercise routine. Take advantage of the weekend by enjoying longer, more strenuous walks or hike at nearby forests, parks or hillsides.
- Stair climbing. An alternative type of walking that uses equipment already available in your home or apartment space, stair climbing involves repeatedly ascending and descending a flight of stairs. The incline pushes your body against gravity, developing your cardiovascular fitness as well as strengthening your leg and glute muscles. Once you have mastered this, create a circuit workout by adding sets of push-ups, lunges or squats every time you reach the top of the stairs.
- Working out at your desk. Taking regular breaks from your desk to get up and stretch can help reduce the amount of time spent sitting sedentary every day. Investing in a standing desk also helps, as does the highly inventive concept of chair yoga, which helps improve flexibility and posture while also providing much-needed stress relief. This can be performed by those with low mobility.
- Moderate intensity exercise. Aerobic exercise is great for cardiovascular health and requires little or no equipment, instead using your own body weight. First, ensure you have enough free space in your home before doing a five-minute warm up of low-impact exercises and stretches. Create your own short aerobic exercise routine comprising of your favourite exercises, be it jumping jacks, running in place or skipping. Add different exercises increasing in difficulty to your routine each week to build up your fitness level.
- Vigorous intensity exercise. For a more intensive workout, try high intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves repeating short intervals of maximum-impact exercise followed by rest intervals. HIIT is highly effective at improving cardiovascular health as well as rapidly burning calories. Considering most HIIT workouts last no longer than 20 minutes, there is no excuse for not fitting exercise into your busy schedule. A typical routine contains more intensive moves like burpees, mountain climbers, jump squats and inchworms.
- Strength training workouts. This involves exercises that strengthen the main muscles of the body such as lunges, squats, or weight lifting, either using your own body weight or simple equipment like free weights or resistance bands. Try doing a 30-minute strength workout per week focusing on different areas of your body including upper body, core and lower body. Strength training promotes cardiovascular health as well as weight loss, muscle building and bone strength. Our strength declines as we age, leading to frailty and increasing the risk of disease, lowering our longevity. Older adults who do regular exercise retain better balance, lowering the risk of falls and injuries . Indeed, older people with healthier lifestyles have a lower degree of frailty, and a reduced risk of developing dementia.
With the demands of the busy working week, exercising can be the last thing on your to-do list. However, at-home workouts are a cheap and accessible way to incorporate exercise into your every day, whether it be a pre-breakfast workout, a walk during your lunch hour or an evening stair climbing challenge. Considering that exercise benefits weight loss, cardiovascular health, and protects against disease and frailty as we age, exercising for longevity should be an everyday priority.