What is the best exercise for longevity? Blue Zone Founder gives the answer

Longevity has become a buzzword in recent years. People of all ages have always aimed to live longer lives.

For instance, for thousands of years, people worldwide have sought the elixir of life that will give them additional years to their mortal lives. Immortality has not only been an elusive goal but one that has spawned thousands of studies and remedies in the past centuries. 

With the growth of scientific studies and advances in maintaining health and well-being, many researchers are returning to a straightforward regimen that can help promote a longer and healthier life.

Researchers found that walking, a simple exercise, can do wonders for the body and add more years to one’s life. Longevity, after all, is within reach through doing one fundamental thing, walking every day. 

What is longevity? 

Longevity is defined as a long duration of life [1]. It results from decreasing mortality amongst older adults living in developed countries.

The mortality rates for women 80 years old and older have reduced by 50% from 1950 to 1995. The same trend is also reflected among older men.

Improvements in healthcare systems, environmental hygiene, and advances in medicine worldwide have contributed to longevity or the current trends in lifespan. 

Notably, socioeconomic status and lifestyle play important roles in longevity. In addition, diet modifications such as restriction of calories and consumption of antioxidants have positive effects on longevity in animal studies.

Studies on the impact of caloric restriction and antioxidants on human longevity are still emerging. 

However, the good news is there is a straightforward exercise that has been well-supported in studies to support longevity in humans. Surprisingly, this exercise is easy to follow and can be done anytime, whether in the gym or outside your home! 

Why walking is the best exercise for longevity 

Why walking is the best exercise for longevity 

Dan Buettner, an expert in Blue Zones and New York Times bestselling author, explains that the best exercise to support longevity is no other than walking.

Buettner reiterates that brisk walking can achieve 90% of the benefits of training for a marathon.

This is a fraction of the impact of the physical activities related to exercise for a marathon and the effort required to complete the training! 

Buettner continues that you can engage in daily walks for your entire life. Further, he states that walking engages more than 100 muscles while improving cognitive functioning. 

As an expert in Blue Zones, or areas where people with the most extended lifespan live, Buettner has been studying why people in specific places worldwide live longer than others.

He observed that the lifestyle and culture of Blue Zones embed regular movement, which likely explains why there are many centenarians in these places. 

In a podcast, Buettner emphasizes that “the big epiphany of Blue Zones is they’re moving every 20 minutes, but not because there’s some regimen. Their environment is set up so that they’re nudged into movement.” 

A Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports research study [2] reports that lower impact exercise, such as eccentric exercises, done frequently throughout the week is more effective than one-time extensive eccentric exercise per week.

Eccentric exercises are described as lengthening, slow muscle contractions that involve at least one or more than one muscle. An example of an eccentric exercise includes lowering yourself slowly from standing to sitting. 

Meanwhile, another study [3] showed that walking for at least 10 minutes each day or walking an hour per week has increased longevity in adults 85 years old and older.

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Regardless of age, the World Health Organization advises adults to engage in 150 minutes of moderate physical exercise per week.

However, older adults often live a sedentary lifestyle, especially as they age. Further, the amount of physical activity or exercise also declines with age. 

One of the study’s lead authors, Dr Moo-Nyun Jin [3], explained that “adults are less likely to meet activity recommendations as they age”.

The study author, who is from Seoul, Korea and is employed at the Inje University Sanggye Paik Hospital, continued to explain that “our study suggests that walking at least one hour every week is beneficial for people aged 85 years and older. Put simply, walk for 10 minutes every day.” 

Walking is equivalent to zone 2 cardio, which is described as a training style where you reach 60 to 70% of your maximum heart rate.

Over an extended period, performing zone 2 cardio, such as walking, can increase cardiovascular endurance. Consistent walking for at least 10 minutes each day can increase longevity. 

Making the most of your walking 

Try walking in groups

A meta-analysis [4] that included 42 studies that recruited 1843 participants revealed that walking in groups resulted in wide-ranging health benefits.

Some benefits include reduced blood pressure, body fat, body mass index, total cholesterol and a significant increase in maximal oxygen consumption.

The body needs oxygen during metabolism and in performing essential brain functions. Lack of oxygen leads to impairment in the brain and other crucial organs in the body.

Further, study participants who participated in group walks reported reduced depression scores. 

try walking in groups

Further, the same meta-analysis revealed that people in walking groups maintained their exercise regimen and tended to sustain their walking habits over time.

Older adults who participate in walking groups tend to be protected from the adverse effects of walking, such as falls. 

The social interactions during group walking might help explain why adults who participate in this simple exercise have happier dispositions. 

The findings are interesting since most walking group participants reaped health benefits even when many of the groups did not meet the World Health Organization (WHO) international guideline for moderate activity.

The WHO has recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week to enjoy the benefits of physical exercise. The results support that even 10 minutes of walking or any action is better than none. 

On your next walk, search for support or participate in community group walks. Most of these group walks are conducted in forested areas that are safe for walking or those with hike trails. This can do wonders for your health while also increasing longevity! 

Try earthing 

Earthing means walking barefoot and feeling the earth underneath your feet. This might sound unusual. However, one study [5] found that earthing can change the brain’s electrical activity.

The authors pointed out that earthing helps individuals better adapt to daily demands and their environment. In addition, the authors suggested that earthing can regulate the functioning of the nervous system. 

Other benefits of earthing include the following: 

  • Ease pain and inflammation
  • Lower blood pressure 
  • Boost mood 
  • Reduce blood clumping and viscosity 
  • Reduce cardiovascular risk 

A short walk or activity is better than no activity at all 

Remember, it is essential to take a good walk every day, no matter how short this is. It is advised that walking for at least 10 minutes each can help you in your journey to wellness and longevity. 

Here are some suggestions to help you get the hang of walking: 

  • Make a tradition to go for an after-dinner walk or go on a walk after lunchtime 
  • Instead of sitting in meetings, strive to conduct meetings while walking 
  • When going to work or places, take public transportation and walk the final leg
  • If you do not want to walk after lunchtime or dinnertime, go for a walk early in the morning 

Walking and longevity 

Everyone wants to attain healthy ageing. So, how many steps should one take to reap the benefits of healthy ageing?

One study [6] shows that as little as 4,400 steps a day could reduce mortality in older women. Further, these women had greater longevity than those who walked less than 4,400 steps daily.

Notably, the WHO has recommended 10,000 steps per day of walking to achieve optimal health. However, for older adults, the required steps for increased longevity may be fewer. 

In older adults, walking has been associated with reduced risk for: 

  • Depression
  • Heart disease 
  • Dementia 
  • Stroke 
  • Arthritis 
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Muscle wasting 

Takeaway 

Walking is a simple exercise that does not require special equipment and can be done at any time of the day. Walking, even as few as 4,400 steps a day, is significantly associated with increased longevity.

Since many people want to attain a healthy lifespan or experience healthy ageing, starting with simple exercises such as walking is the best way. 

You can wear orthopaedic shoes or footwear if your feet bother you when walking. If you choose to do earthing, ensure that the paths you walk are safe.

Additionally, you can select a walking buddy or participate in walking groups to reap the benefits of walking and achieve longevity. 

Walking in areas with plenty of plants, trees and other greeneries can also do wonders for your mental health. It has been shown that walking in nature can boost mood and improve a sense of well-being.

Finally, remember that little activity is better than no activity at all. So, start your day by taking a 10-minute walk and gradually increasing your walking time. Start now and enjoy the benefits of walking! 

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[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/longevity
[2] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/sms.14220 
[3] https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/Octogenarians-should-walk-10-minutes-a-day-to-prolong-life 
[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25601182/ 
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21856083/ 
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31141585/ 

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