Despite the importance of exercise, many people in modern society lead a sedentary lifestyle, with NHS UK (2020) data showing that over 30% of adults in England are classed as inactive. Physical inactivity is associated with 1 in 6 deaths in the UK. It can lead to a number of negative health effects and chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, musculoskeletal problems and depression (NHS 2022). Recent research has also found that a sedentary lifestyle may even double your mortality risk.
Physical activity as the elixir of life
Physical activity can unquestionably improve your life (and not only in terms of longevity). And if you’re still unsure whether you should try exercising or whether it can provide you with the benefits that everyone is raving about, we can assure you that you should give it a shot, and you will notice significant improvements in your life. There is no smoke without a fire. Besides, you don’t need to exercise heavily to experience the benefits that physical activity can give you. You may start from basics like going for a brisk walk or cycling around the park – for some. It may be jogging a couple of miles or training in the gym. Regardless of what you choose, it is essential to remember that doing something is better than nothing.
Research shows that engaging in just 15 minutes of exercise per day decreases the risk of all-cause mortality by 14% and increases life expectancy by 3 years. A generally higher level of total physical activity and less time spent sedentary is associated with a substantially reduced risk for premature mortality.
1Walk to live longer
Walking is an excellent way to increase your daily activity. It is often overlooked due to being a low-intensity form of exercise compared to methods such as HIIT, running or weightlifting. Due to its low-impact nature, walking is not highly fatiguing for the muscles, joints and connective tissues and therefore does not have a high recovery demand. So you can easily integrate walking into your daily life without any excessive effort.
Walking can be easily included in daily life
Walking can be a structured form of exercise, reaching a target distance/time/pace or can be incorporated into daily life by walking to the shops, school or work rather than using a vehicle. These short walks may seem trivial and that they wouldn’t make a difference. However, the effects build up across days, weeks, months and even years.
It eases stress
In addition to the physical benefits, walking can improve a wide range of mental health markers. In 2018, a study investigated the benefits of a 100-day, 10,000-step walking challenge and found significant reductions in stress (-8.9%), anxiety (-5%) and signs of depression (-7.6%) among participants. So, whenever you feel overwhelmed with negative emotions – forget about eating fast food and binge-watching TV shows, and take a stroll instead. A nice sauntering in the evening will clear your head and won’t add extra pounds on the scales the next morning.
2Run to elongate your life
Running can be an excellent progression from walking, suited to more trained individuals or those training for sports or performance reasons. It offers similar benefits as walking with regards to overall health and longevity, with active runners presenting a 25%–45% lower risk of all-cause mortality than sedentary individuals. Research observing 1000 participants found that jogging 2-3 times per week for a total of 1-2.4 hours weekly was the training volume associated with the lowest mortality risk.
Running positively impacts physical and mental health
If you have a safe space to run, such as a park or trail, outdoor running can be a great way to get some fresh air and explore your surroundings. A jog in a park at sunrise will not only improve your health but also give you pleasure from the scenery, fresh air and therapeutic atmosphere overall. You can improve your mood and respond to stress by running because the blood circulation to your brain is increased when you run. As a result, you’re temporarily able to handle stressful situations better.
Some may run indoors on a treadmill, which presents a safe running environment. Although running on a treadmill can be tedious, it has the benefit of allowing you to set a constant target pace, as well as having a lower impact on the joints compared to running on concrete. As running is a high-impact training method of moderate to high intensity, it is important to track your overall running volume and allow sufficient recovery to avoid injury – particularly if you have engaged in other training, sports or physical activity already.
3Cycle for a lasting life cycle
Cycling is a great activity, particularly when looking for a low-impact form of exercise. Individuals with joint problems such as arthritis may use cycling as their preferred training method, as it allows a high-intensity workload to be achieved whilst reducing the stress placed on the joints. Research has also found that cycling reduces pain and improves performance in individuals with osteoarthritis.
Cycling reduces risk of serious illnesses
The overall health benefits of cycling for health & longevity are well documented, with research finding it leads to significant reductions in all-cause and cancer mortality, improves peripheral insulin sensitivity and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
4Try boxing & Thai boxing as a new and cool way to prolong your lifespan
In previous decades, combat sports training was mainly reserved for amateur or professional fighters. Non-contact training using HIIT protocols has become increasingly popular in recent years. One example of this is boxing HIIT, which involves performing hooks, jabs, crosses and uppercuts whilst ‘shadow boxing’, hitting a punching bag or a pad held by a coach.
Boxing advances body shape and cardiorespiratory stamina
HIIT has many benefits such as improving cardiorespiratory fitness and reducing body fat. It leads to similar adaptations as longer duration, moderate intensity exercise, presenting a time-efficient method of training. Integrating combat sports training into your routine allows you to gain the physical benefits from HIIT whilst developing new skills. Research has found boxing-based HIIT to significantly improve upper-body aerobic power and punching ability.
Thai boxing (Muay Thai) incorporates hooks, jabs, crosses, and uppercuts – as well as lower body movements such as push kicks, jumping kicks and roundhouse kicks of varying heights. The lower limbs contain the largest muscles in the body, therefore using these muscles leads to higher energy expenditure (burning more calories) and places a greater demand on the cardiorespiratory system.
It trains the whole body
Non-contact Muay Thai training targets all major muscles in the body, leading to a broad range of benefits – such as improvements in flexibility, strength, endurance, cardiorespiratory fitness and balance, as well as increasing muscle mass in the lower limbs.
5Dance, enjoy, and improve your health
Humans have engaged in dancing as a form of physical activity for thousands of years. In recent decades, structured forms of exercise based on different dance styles/moves have emerged. These can be referred to as aerobic dance and include Zumba, Jazzercize, Step and more!
Need additional intensity to work for better results
Dancing can be a fun social activity, as it is usually group based. This makes it easy to sustain as it may not even feel like exercise if you already enjoy dancing. A key limitation, however, is the lack of long-term progression. Classes typically run for a set time, and external resistance (dumbbells, kettlebells etc.) isn’t often utilised – therefore you cannot easily increase the intensity of each session. So to increase the effectiveness of dancing you should still perform resistance training and more intense aerobic exercise throughout the week.
6Lift weights to maintain an active lifestyle for a longer time
What benefits spring to mind when you consider weightlifting exercises? Of course, the most obvious benefit that will come to mind is probably that strength training makes us stronger. Our muscles are going to be stronger and bigger, and it’s going to be a lot easier to carry back home that huge bunch of healthy products that you buy at the grocery store. But these are not the only benefits of strength training. Of course, it’s well known that engaging in cardiovascular training is a great way to add some life span, but not everyone knows that weight training also has positive effects on your longevity, and besides, it’s not necessary to go extra hard or visit the gym every day to collect that benefit.
It lowers risk of all-cause mortality
Recently, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published research in which scientists tried to find out the protective effects of weight training against all-cause mortality, whether in combination with aerobic activity or on its own. This study showed that adults who participated in any kind of weightlifting activity were associated with a 9% lower risk of all-cause mortality, and similar lower mortality risks were observed for cardiovascular disease mortality.
Moreover, adults who reported weightlifting one to two times per week had a 14% lower all-cause mortality. Another interesting finding was that, compared to adults who reported neither weightlifting nor aerobic activity, adults who met those aerobic moderate-to-vigorous physical activities had a 32% lower risk of all-cause mortality, and adults who also added weightlifting one to two times per week to aerobic activities had a 41% lower risk of all-cause mortality. So hit the gym and lift some weights to enjoy life for as long as possible.
7Increase the intensity to improve health
Training with high intensity, like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), has boomed in popularity. Millions of people all over the world choose short, high-intensity training over long, steady aerobic sessions. HIIT is a training method that involves alternating short bursts of vigorous anaerobic activity with brief intervals of rest. There are several HIIT-style workouts, which may include both aerobic and strength training routines. By mixing these types of exercises, HIIT workouts promote a boost in different physical fitness parameters, such as cardiovascular capabilities, strength, power, and speed; they also positively influence body composition, flexibility, body mass index, fat mass, and waist circumference.
It can improve sleep
Sleep is necessary for people of all ages to preserve their health and well-being. Lack of sleep will immediately affect our mental and physical conditions. Sleep deprivation has been related to an increased risk of various illnesses and medical disorders. Obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, poor mental health, and premature mortality are among them. And training that is performed with high intensity over a short period of time seems to be promising for improving sleep quality.
A review published by the “International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health” shows that adults can feel improvements in sleep quality from consistent HIIT workouts of any sort conducted for more than 16 minutes. Furthermore, conducting this sort of exercise at least three times a week was linked to reduced time spent awake in bed.
8Embrace the rowing trend
Rowing on the water is a sport that’s existed for hundreds of years. Either nowadays or in the past, this sport never entered the list of the most popular sports in the world. The same can be said for a rowing machine. The first indoor rowing machines were known in the mid-1800s; they were primarily used by rowing athletes and were not so popular among regular gym goers. But it seems that things have changed, at least for rowing machines. In the last few years, rowing machines have become mainstream in gyms all over the world and have even become a great alternative for those who get bored on treadmills.
Rowing machine may improve posture
In 2021, scientists conducted a study about the ability of Ergometer rowing to mitigate spinal pain in neurosurgeons. Surgeons and other healthcare professionals frequently experience musculoskeletal pain at work, particularly spinal pain. This kind of pain is common in such professions because of prolonged periods in suboptimal posture. Neurosurgeons are not the only professionals whose work can have such negative consequences. Working in an office and sitting for eight hours at a desk can also cause back issues. In this study, scientists found that rowing machines can help overcome the effects of suboptimal poses related to work and help to improve posture and alleviate muscle fatigue.
9Swim to recover your body
Swimming is a sport that is recommended for people of any fitness level. Besides the health benefits that swimming can provide, it can also be used as a recovery session from more intense exercises and workouts, and it can also help you to relax and lower your stress levels.
Swimming can lower blood pressure
With swimming, you get a workout that enables you to burn extra calories, and at the same time, you can reduce joint pain and muscle soreness. But one more way that swimming can improve your overall well-being is by lowering your blood pressure. Swimming can cause positive changes in systolic blood pressure, arterial stiffness, and blood supply to the brain, according to one small study that included an eight-week moderate-swimming program and twenty young overweight participants.
10Yoga is an easy activity for significant gains
Frankly, yoga needs no introduction. It seems that most people in the world have heard about the benefits that yoga provides at least once in their lives. You’ve probably heard about how yoga can help you get healthier, manage your stress, improve your strength, balance, flexibility, and so much more. So let us keep it brief and just refresh your memory about the benefits of yoga.
Yoga can help overcome depression
Yes, that may sound like a broken record, but it’s important to mention because it’s undeniably true that a good mental state will have a positive impact on all aspects of our lives. There are a countless numbers of studies held all over the world, with participants of different ages ranging from young to old, that found yoga to be beneficial as a form of therapy and treatment for depression. For example, a meta-analysis of 23 experiments that was published in 2017 shows that yoga can be considered a viable alternative treatment for major depressive disorders.
Yoga can improve flexibility
This is one of the most common reasons why people start practising yoga. Flexibility plays an important role in physical health and physical activity. To attain the desired pose, you should stretch your muscles. When you perform various yoga positions, your muscles become habituated to the movements and they become more flexible over time. Yoga comes in a variety of styles, ranging from low to high intensity, and even low-intensity sessions have been proven to be beneficial. So you can choose the intensity that suits you best.
Great activity if you do all of the above – Beer Pong
Beer Pong is a fun game to play with a group of friends. It is usually played by teams of two, with each team taking turns tossing a ping pong ball into the other team’s cups. When the ball hits the cup, the cup is removed, and the opponent drinks the contents of the cup.
This is probably the best activity you can do! It is low-impact and develops your hand-eye coordination, concentration and aim – with the added bonus of burning 20-30 calories per game…
…Sadly, that’s just a joke – maybe if we fill the cups with water it counts?
Physical activities in The Blue Zones
Giovanni Ligato was the oldest centenarian in Calabria, Sardinia Italy and lived for 110 years. He shared his secret of enduring life: nutrition and physical activity. He walked every day to the olive grove and did labour that required much physical strength. His diet consisted of figs and beans, and he never consumed red meat.
In Okinawa, Japan, which is also well-known for being a residence for a lot of centenarians, many people practice martial arts, for example, tai chi – a dance-inspired version of martial art. The type of exercise you choose is of no consequence. But it is important to work all parts of your body, down to rapid breathing or sweating, for five to ten hours a week.
Let’s sum up
With so many benefits to physical activity and exercise, it makes you wonder why so many people in the UK are sedentary. The research is very clear in terms of the effects of exercise on health and longevity – improving quality of life, reducing the risk of chronic conditions and increasing life expectancy.
Different types of activity will suit different people. You may incorporate multiple types into your life to attain the key benefits from each. For example, doing a gentle daily walk, 3 gym-based resistance training sessions and a couple of Thai boxing sessions each week. Make sure to choose exercises and activities that bring you joy and then you will definitely succeed in making your life more fulfilled, healthier, and longer.
Not enough? Here is some more
Here’s a video where Patricia Bloom discusses her views on exercise and how it affects our lives and health. Patricia A. Bloom, MD, is an Associate Professor of Geriatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Bloom’s major interest is the promotion of healthy ageing, including mindfulness and meditation, stress reduction, and integrative medicine.
Also, check out the video where neurologist Wendy Suzuki explores the science behind how exercising improves your mood and memory and guards your brain against neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s.
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