Physical activity is great for mood swings, stress and anxiety - and exercising with others also boosts our physical, mental and emotional wellbeingA little while ago I posted about the nine lessons for living well longer; the culmination of many years of research by Dan Beuttner and his colleagues in areas around the world where people live longer and healthier.

The first lesson is to move naturally – to be active without having to think about it. Blue Zones “longevity all-stars”, as Dan Buettner calls them,  incorporate a lot of incidental activity in their day rather than scheduled exercise sessions; for example, they spend hours working in their gardens to put food on the table, or they walk a lot as part of their daily routine. In some cases this is because they still actively work as shepherds or in the fields, in others because they live in villages without cars or are too old to drive, or just enjoy walking  in nature.

Of course, our lifestyles are quite different from most of the Blue Zones communities. We spend a lot of time sitting at desks in offices at work or at home. Even if we’re not working the majority of people aren’t doing the minimum amount of physical activity necessary for health and wellbeing.

Ideally we would all be doing a combination of aerobic/cardio, muscle-strengthening, flexibility and balance exercises each week. Aim for a couple of sessions of each per week if you can. The national guidelines recommend adults do a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate exercise every week, which is equivalent to 30 minutes a day. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be all at once.

So, how can you build more physical activity into your day?  Adding more incidental activity and focusing on activities you enjoy are two good strategies.

More incidental activity… Think about inconveniencing yourself: whether that’s walking to the shop instead of driving for small purchases; preparing food by hand rather than using fast, electric gadgets; walking around the house, garden or office while talking on the phone, or doing the housework with fewer labour-saving devices. Yes, it will probably feel like a pain in the butt at first, but in time it will become a habit and you’ll start feeling better.

Do things you love… Make a list of the physical activities you enjoy, or used to enjoy – or that you’ve always wanted to try. From walking around the neighbourhood to bushwalking, hiking to jogging, zumba to ballroom dancing, tennis to table tennis, lawn bowls to indoor bowling, gardening, cycling, pole dancing, swimming – there’s bound to be something you’ll enjoy. Don’t do something that’s a chore for you, because you’re less likely to do it! Exercise with a group and make it a social occasion, or on your own if you find it difficult to get time to yourself.

Yoga is great for strength, flexibility and balance, and is also a wonderful stress-buster. It’s good for your joints, helps improve mobility and can lessen pain – and you don’t need to be a contortionist, there are many types of yoga that are gentle and restorative. Try Find Yoga or Yoga Australia to find a class near you, or search for online classes that you can do in your own time.

Gardening also provides a great workout that can help relieve stress, improve flexibility and mobility, and provide cardiovascular benefits – plus you get fresh fruit and vegetables which you can share with family and friends!

Walking is much easier on the joints than running, and if you walk briskly may even provide similar cardiovascular benefits. It’s free, you can do it pretty much anywhere, and you can do it alone (it’s a great opportunity to listen to audio books, podcasts, daydream or think through decisions you need to make) or in company.

I’ll admit that exercise is something I have to work at, especially in winter when it’s cold and grey outside and the fireplace, couch and a good book are much more appealing. I also tend to feel down more easily over winter and I know that I’ll feel more positive and energetic when I do some sort of physical activity. So what are my secrets to getting my butt off the couch?

  1. Focus on WHY I want to exercise – when I think about how much better I’ll feel mentally and physically it makes it that much easier to get going
  2. I listen to audio books while I’m walking, and before I know it I’ve walked for an hour
  3. Wear the right gear so that I’m warm enough when I start, but can easily shed a layer when I warm up
  4. I mostly work from home, so it’s actually nice to get out and smile and say hello to other people walking (and pat a few dogs)
  5. We’ve just purchased a Chromecast so I can now stream yoga and exercise classes to the TV – great for it’s just too miserable to get outside

Being active is one of the BEST things we can do for our health, now and into the future. It doesn’t have to take up much time, or cost money, and it can be done alone or in company.

Important note: if you haven’t exercised in a while, or are thinking of increasing your physical activity, be sure to get the all-clear from your GP first!

Source: The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the people who’ve lived the longest.