Taking the long view of physical exercise can help you live a longer life and avoid physical injury.
If drug companies could create a pill that contained all the benefits that simple daily exercise provides, they would be flooded with interest and customers. However, no such pill has been created to date. The physical benefits of exercise are still better than anything you can find in a pharmacy. Regular physical exercise not only improves your current state of health but can also reduce your chance of chronic illness and extend your life.
At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we are committed to helping you live a full and healthy life. One of the most important things you can do to preserve your health is to stay physically active. A longevity-friendly exercise routine should focus on improving your balance (so that you can avoid falls), preserving your bone health, increasing your heart’s fitness, and safeguarding your joints.
Here is what you need to know about how to exercise for longevity.
What is Longevity?
When you see the word “longevity,” it can sometimes be intimidating. You may picture cyborgs and robots roaming about in a distant future, with never-ending lifespans. However, at Lompoc Valley Medical Center, our definition of longevity is simpler: It simply means continuing to do the things you love to do for as long as possible.
How is Physical Activity Related to Longevity?
One of the most important ways that you can extend your longevity is through physical exercise. Studies have shown that regular exercise can help you live a longer life. Exercising—versus being inactive—can reduce your chance of dying from any cause by up to 35%. Daily exercise can even help “turn back the clock” on some processes related to aging. It does this by helping you avoid certain diseases (such as heart disease and cancer) and optimizing your organs' health.
How Does Exercise Benefit the Body?
Staying physically active can help your body in numerous ways. Many specific body systems can benefit from exercise.
- Exercise and the Heart: Research has shown that physical activity can lower your chances of having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and strokes.
- Exercise and the Brain: Exercising can help lower your risk of developing dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Society reports that regularly exercising can reduce your chances of getting Alzheimer’s dementia by 45%.
- Exercise and the Immune System: Exercise can help your immune system by increasing the number of immune cells available to help you fight off disease. Researchers have found that older adults involved in more physical activity have immune defense systems that work faster and better.
- Exercise and Mood: When you exercise, your brain produces chemicals that make you feel happier and improve your mood. These chemicals can reduce your stress levels, which can also help you live longer.
- Exercise and Bone Health: Strength and resistance exercises (the type that force you to "bear weight") can help increase your bone density. Increased bone density can help reduce your chance of breaking a bone if you fall, particularly if you have a condition of bone thinning known as osteopenia or osteoporosis.
The positive benefits of exercise on the body are clear; however, not all exercise is created equal. Exercising in short spurts every once in a while, or over-exercising, are not as good for you and your longevity as doing regular, moderate physical activity.
How Much Exercise is Best?
Many health organizations in the U.S. agree that 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity can help most people achieve their health goals. The type of exercise that you do to reach this threshold can vary. In fact, for longevity’s sake, it is best to mix up your exercise routine so that your joints can have time to rest in between sessions. This type of “cross-training” can also help you use all three arms of a longevity-friendly routine: aerobic fitness, strength training, and balance training.
Is Intense Exercise Always the Best Type?
Sometimes it is tempting to exercise as much as you can—whether to lose weight, prepare for a specific event, or maximize the multiple benefits of exercise. However, more exercise is not always better. The adage “everything in moderation” applies to physical activity, too. Going to the extreme and over-exercising can put unnecessary stress on your body and put you at risk of unintentionally harming yourself. Research on ultra-marathoners shows that they might have decreased longevity for unclear reasons. People who put too much stress on their joints from over-exercising might also be more likely to develop arthritis, which can then make it harder for them to exercise regularly without undergoing surgery, such as a joint replacement.
Other types of injuries that are related to intense exercise include:
- Overgrowth of the heart muscle tissue
- Muscle syndromes (such as tears)
- Inflammation syndromes, like plantar fasciitis
- Stress fractures
While over-exercising can sometimes be too much of a good thing, researchers have benefited from high-intensity exercise in the aging process. If you are interested in doing high-intensity exercise, make sure to talk with your medical provider to make sure that you can do it safely and effectively.
What Types of Exercise Can Support Longevity?
When it comes to exercises that can help you live a long life, imagine changing the famous saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” to, instead, “a brisk walk a day keeps the mortician away.” Experts at Harvard University have noted that you may be able to slow down your body’s aging processes with just 15 minutes a day of moderate exercise.
The types of exercise that can support longevity tend to be “low impact.” This means that it can get your heart rate up, engage your core muscle groups, and help you improve your balance, but they don’t put too much stress on your body and joints. This helps you recover faster after each session and exercise more frequently.
Examples of low-impact exercises include:
- Water aerobics
- Indoor cycling
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have found that group fitness classes may be especially beneficial when it comes to extending your lifespan. In a 2018 study, they found that participating in certain group activities could extend a person’s life expectancy by the following amounts:
- Tennis: 9.7 years
- Badminton: 6.2 years
- Soccer 4.7 years
The positive effect of group exercise may be due to social interaction's benefits on your mood and spirit. It also may come from the fact that exercising with other people can make you more likely to stick with an activity and enjoy it for a longer period.
Choosing the Right Exercise for You
Everyone’s body is different. The exercise that can help one person stay healthy for a long time might not be an ideal activity plan for another person. Scientists who have studied people who live very long lives (into their hundredth year and beyond) think that the best way to choose an exercise for longevity is to pick the one you enjoy the most. This will make exercise feel less like work and more like something you look forward to every day.
How to Add Exercise into Your Daily Routine
If you aren’t exercising regularly, it can be hard to get started with a new exercise program. However, making small changes in your daily routine can help you gradually increase your activity level. Try to set small, specific goals for yourself each day, such as:
- Take the stairs, instead of the elevator
- Park on the far side of the parking lot
- Lift a jug of milk above your head twice each time you get it out of the refrigerator
- Stand up and pace while watching the news, instead of sitting on the couch
One of the most important things that you can do to get yourself in the habit of moving is to avoid the opposite of exercise—you should avoid being sedentary. Even if you cannot get outside every day, or you have a busy schedule that makes it difficult to commit to regular exercise, you can still get some of the benefits of exercise by moving around your home. Try setting a timer to remind you to change from a seated position to a standing position every 20 minutes if you are working from home. Or, make it a goal to do five sit-ups every hour.
What Other Habits Support Longevity?
Exercise is just one of the lifestyle measures that can help you increase the number of years to enjoy a healthy life. Scientists believe that other healthy habits—such as maintaining social connections, eating a healthy diet, staying engaged with your community, and sticking to a regular sleep schedule—can also help increase your longevity.
How to Learn More About Exercising for Longevity
Exercising is a key part of staying well throughout your lifetime. At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we are here to help you on your journey to better health. Our primary care providers, sports medicine specialists, and nutritionists can give great tips and personalized recommendations about how you can increase your longevity.
To get started, contact us today to schedule an appointment.