If I were to ask you what are the most important factors and predictors of living a long life, what kinds of things come to mind? Diet, medicines, genetics or heck, even the fountain of youth? Sure, they play a role (well, except that elusive fountain of youth)…but I want to focus on more of the lifestyle factors since they have a much larger role to play, particularly a lifestyle factor not mentioned above.
Exercise isn’t often on people’s radar as a factor in lifespan which is why I suspect most people would be surprised to learn muscle strength is one of the strongest predictors of how long you will live.
There has been a pretty significant shift in the exercise industry over the past couple of decades. There used to be a much heavier emphasis solely on cardio exercise to stay healthy but over the years it has shifted to include many different types of exercise that combine both an emphasis on cardio and resistance training. So whether you enjoy yoga, pilates, running, HIIT, Tabata, swimming, weight lifting, etc. you’re in luck as long as you are working your body consistently.
But how exactly can exercise help with longevity? It’s not just a matter of maintaining a healthy heart and lungs. There is far more happening within your body when you consistently work your body that helps fight aging.
Telomeres are the protein endcaps of our chromosomes. They protect the cell. As we age, and cells replicate, we lose bits of these endcaps. Luckily, research shows that exercise is linked to slowing the loss of these endcaps.
When exercising your blood starts pumping, which is increasing oxygen to the brain, this makes our brain perform better. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new growth hormones in which help to create more brain cells.
If you’re regularly exercising, your bone is constantly adapting and building more bone while becoming less dense. When exercising to improve balance and coordination, you are less likely to fall (this is a good thing if you have osteoporosis).
A recent study demonstrated that “regular aerobic exercise has a positive effect on decreasing most of the reported inflammatory markers, including CRP, TNF-a, and IL-6, in healthy middle-aged and older adults.” It’s important to reduce inflammation as chronic inflammation can lead to immune dysfunction, neuronal problems, tissue dysfunction and many other concerns.
Zheng et al. 2018
Regular exercise replenishes lubrication to the joint cartilage. As we age, we experience a drastic increase in our stiffness, so this is important as it helps reduce stiffness and pain.
It can be hard to stick to a routine, especially with the busyness of our modern-day lives. I get that. But remember that the opposite of benefits can be detrimental. Without exercise, we will age faster, we’ll experience more joint pain and stiffness, and our cognitive health with decline faster.
Now that I’ve covered some of the ways exercise fights aging, I want to cover a few of the common questions and concerns I get asked when it comes to exercise from those either just starting or who may be wondering if they are doing enough to reap the benefits.
Exercise doesn’t have to be a strenuous activity, you can incorporate walks, yoga, workout classes and change it up. I always say the goal is movement. Some days it will be small movements whereas others it will be more intense. It’s ok as long as you get up and move for about 20 minutes per day you’re on the right track.
Many people struggle to start exercise because of joint stiffness and pain but daily exercise replenishes lubrication to the joint cartilage. Exercise minimizes inflammation so exercise actually will overtime help with joint stiffness and pain.
Finding time for exercise is often a problem for people so a few options to incorporate more movement into your day would be taking the stairs instead of the elevator, taking a walk on lunch, waking up 20 minutes earlier, taking five-minute breaks every hour to do squats, pushups or stretches.
Exercise is so incredibly important for so many reasons including the ways exercise fights aging so make the time now so that your future self won’t have regrets.