Fitness Tips

5 Favorite Exercises of the Longest-Living People in the World

Emily Laurence

Photo: Getty Images/Maskot
In the United States, the average life expectancy is 79 years. It's only natural, then, for Americans to want to know the secrets of the Blue Zones, five places in the world where people regularly live long, healthy lives into their 100s. Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner has devoted his professional life to sharing what he's learned. In part, there's an emphasis on the importance of a strong sense of purpose, connection to loved ones, and eating a plant-forward diet. Buettner's cookbook, The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100, reveals what healthy eating looks like for many of the centenarians he's encountered. But what about movement? Surely, he can recommend exercises for longevity, too.

People in Blue Zones think a little differently about movement. Instead of intense workouts, the focus is put on regular movement throughout the day. "Their lives are dynamic. Not a constant go, go, go, but a mix of movement, then rest,” Emily Kiberd, DC, founder of New York City’s Urban Wellness Clinic, previously told Well+Good.

If like many Americans you find yourself parked in front of a computer for the majority of your day, it's important to be intentional about regular movement. This can look different for various people, depending on the type of movement you enjoy, but the overall goal is to aim for 150 to 300 minutes of activity per week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

The best exercises for longevity, inspired by the Blue Zones

1. Walking

People living in the Blue Zones tend to do a lot of walking, which is naturally part of their daily routine. They may walk to the market to buy their groceries or go on an evening walk with a friend. "When it comes to cognitive sharpness, the number one best activity you can do is walk,” Buettner previously told Well+Good.

Walking is good for the overall body, including the brain. One study found that daily walking was correlated with preserving the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain where memory is stored. So don't underestimate the power of a good walk!

Foot mobility stretches can help you get the most out of your walks:

2. Bicycling

According to Robert Agnello, DO, people in the Blue Zone of Sardinia prefer bicycles as their primary mode of transportation. This, he says, undoubtedly has long-term positive effects on their cardiovascular health.

Similarly to walking, bike riding is a functional form of movement that can regularly be worked into daily life. Thinking about where you could ride your bike instead of driving does take a mental shift, but it's one that could potentially add years to your life.

These are the benefits of an underwater spin class:

3. Dancing

Dancing is another way people in Blue Zones keep moving with people they love in ways that bring them joy. Dancing isn't just a way to get your heart rate up; it's also good for cognitive function because it takes coordination.

Want to get moving? Watch the video below for a dance cardio workout:

4. Tai chi

In Okinawa, many people practice tai chi, a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner and accompanied by deep breathing. Also known as "meditation in motion," tai chi is a Chinese mind-body practice. If you're interested in learning tai chi, seek instructors who are knowledgeable and respectful of its cultural history.

Similar to dance, tai chi takes coordination, which is good for cognitive health. Another reason why tai chi is beneficial is because it helps with stress relief. It also shows that exercise doesn't have to be vigorous; gentle movement is beneficial, too.

5. Gardening

According to trainers, yard work is basically strength training and it's one of the best exercises for longevity, too. “[In] all Blue Zones, people continue to garden even into their 90s and 100s,” says Buettner. Additionally, like cycling or walking, gardening has the power to boost your mood whether you do it on a city balcony or in a suburban backyard.

These are the best plants for every room of your house:

What's most important to keep in mind when it comes to exercises for longevity is working movement in throughout your day. And of course, find ways of moving that you enjoy. As they say, happiness is the key to longevity.

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