As I often report, you should avoid excessive exercise—like marathon running. It’s the kind of exercise you shouldn’t undertake, as it can cause joint, heart, kidney, and GI damage—which all add up, especially as you get older.
So, today, I’m talking about the kinds of exercise you should undertake to reduce your risk of chronic disease—and slow down aging.
The first thing to remember is that moderation is key.
Studies increasingly show that exercise, done in any amounts or increments, for any durations, on any schedule, all add up to significant health benefits—as long as your total activity adds up to about 2.5 hours per week (not per day, or every day).
Plus, science indicates that taking time off between bouts of exercise and physical activity is necessary and beneficial—especially for your muscles and joints.
So, please don’t spend your precious time and money at the gym. In fact, if you must “get to the gym,” I recommend walking there, turning around, and walking back.
Forget about the hype surrounding those overly prescribed and obsessive exercise plans, protocols, and regimens. That approach may fit someone’s idea of running a “fitness business,” but it’s got nothing to do with the science.
Instead, try these seven science-backed tips to improve your fitness and increase your longevity.
1.) Do something—anything
There’s no magic type of exercise. In fact, the best, simplest advice about exercise I’ve seen lately came from an AARP article. It suggested to just, “do something. Anything.” And science backs this advice up…
In fact, a study of 334,000 people in Europe found that those who went from completely inactive to moderately active benefited the most, and researchers found a one-third drop in death rates. Beyond moderate exercise, the law of diminishing returns sets in—at least when it comes to health and longevity.
2.) Pick something sustainable
It’s also important that you follow a reasonable pattern of exercise that you can keep doing. People older than 80 years who continue to exercise have a lower death rate compared to those who stop, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Sport and Health Science.
So, being an elite athlete in younger life won’t help at all if you just quit being active when you’re older. Like the old airline commercial said, you have to “earn your wings every day.” (Perhaps to hold off on getting your wings, so to speak.)
Sensible, moderate, regular activity can actually slow the aging process, as shown by measuring the length of your telomeres—the capped ends of chromosome strands in your DNA that can decrease in length as you age. In fact, a 2017 study in Preventive Medicine found that this kind of exercise extends life by nine years.
3.) Do a fitness self-check
You can easily assess your fitness or vitality as it relates to measures of longevity by doing the following:
- From a seated position on the floor, stand up. It’s a good sign if you can do this without using your hands, furniture, the wall, or other people for support. Hiking and going up hills will help build this kind of capacity.
- Your doctor should use a standard hand “dynamometer” instrument—like a squeeze ball—to assess grip and hand strength. A dynamometer is a device that measures force, torque, or power, and compares your strength against others of the same age and gender. Squeezing a soft stress ball, wringing water out of a wet cloth, and playing with clay will help build your grip strength.
- To assess flexibility, sit on the edge of a chair with one leg extended straight out front. Reach for the toes of the extended leg with both hands. Ideally, there should be less than 4 inches between your fingers and toes. Taking yoga will help improve your flexibility. You can also practice balance exercises to improve strength and power.
4.) Try interval training—the old-fashioned kind
You may have heard about high-intensity interval training (HIIT). And I know some people pay big money for trainers to put them through the motions.
But you can perform interval training by yourself. And there’s nothing fancy or technical about it.
Just take a walk and alternate short intervals of faster walking with longer intervals of strolling along at a regular pace.
That’s all there is to it.
It sounds so simple, but it can help lower chronic inflammation, improve heart function, lower blood pressure, and improve insulin response and metabolic function—which slows aging by reducing your risk of chronic disease and increasing telomere length.
5.) Strengthen your core
A study of 4,400 people age 70 and older found that being free of back pain is associated increases in life expectancy by 13 percent. And one of the best ways to prevent, or reverse, back pain is to strengthen your core.
Tai Chi, which involves slow fluid movements, is a great activity that strengthens your core muscles. And it can even increase your lifespan. In fact, a five-year study of Tai Chi involving 61,000 Chinese men, ages 40 to 74, found improvements in longevity among practitioners. (Click here to find a Tai Chi instructor near you.) Plus, Tai Chi is typically done with other people, which brings me to my next point…
6.) Find a fitness buddy
An analysis of data from 1.2 million adults found that exercising in groups offered the best mental health benefits, as well as physical benefits. So, try to find a walking buddy or group of buddies. In some communities, there are even hiking groups you can join. It’s also safer when you swim to practice the “buddy system.”
7.) Eat to build and maintain muscle
As I told you last month, many people I know suffer from sarcopenia, which is age-related muscle loss.
To minimize muscle loss, I always recommend you eat a balanced diet with enough complete protein from healthy sources like eggs, fish, meat, and seafood.
To learn more about the many benefits of complete protein, and how to incorporate it into your diet, check out the January 2019 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“Your ultimate guide to eating right in 2019—and beyond”).
Subscribers can access the entire issue (and all my archives) by signing into the Subscribers Sign-In page at www.DrMicozzi.com. And if you haven’t signed up for my monthly newsletters yet, all it takes is on quick click.
In the end, some of the biggest medical myths out there relate to exercise. Thankfully, science is coming to the rescue, showing that moderation and common sense continue to lead the way.
“Your Guide to a Healthier, Happier, Longer Life.” AARP Bulletin, 2019. (aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2019/guide-healthier-longer-life.html)