How movement supports your longevity
By Michelle Birmingham
Staying active (even just a little!) supports healthy aging and increases your lifespan.
You might guess this applies to activities like regular exercise and fitness programs. But does it surprise you to know it also applies to gentle, everyday movements like cleaning the house?
You don’t have to be a hard charger to get the benefits of movement.
In this piece, you’ll learn how movement supports longevity. I’ll cover some of the science behind it (though I promise not to get too sciencey!), and how you can incorporate it into your life—whether that means joining a fitness class or taking up gardening.
Why movement matters for longevity
Research tells us again and again that physical activity is good for us. A whole mountain of studies show that regular exercise reduces the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
Studies also show that people who exercise regularly tend to live longer than those who are sedentary.
For example, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that adults who engaged in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week had a 31% lower risk of all-cause mortality compared to those who were inactive.
The New York Times wrote about an especially interesting 2019 study.
It showed people who exercised regularly were 60% less likely to die prematurely than sedentary folks. That’s a huge number! Even so, I wasn’t too surprised. I knew that exercise extends our lifespan. But another finding did raise my eyebrows: even doing regular activities, like “moseying, housecleaning, cooking or gardening,” reduces the likelihood of early death! (Now you have permission to mosey around your house all you like!)
Here’s a quote from the Times piece:
“Over all, the researchers found, someone’s chances of dying prematurely continued to drop the more he or she moved, up to a plateau at about 25 minutes per day of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, or 300 minutes a day of light, gentle activity.”
After those thresholds, the benefits of movement weren’t noticeably different.
But why does physical activity promote longevity? One theory is that exercise helps reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, two factors that contribute to the aging process. Exercise also helps to improve cardiovascular health, which is critical for maintaining overall health and preventing chronic diseases.
Strength training and healthy aging
As the Times shared, any type of physical activity is good for healthy aging.
But strength training is particularly important. You don’t have to start lifting weights every day to get the benefits, either.
As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass and strength. That leaves you vulnerable to a variety of health problems, and can limit your everyday activities. You might have trouble lifting a gallon of milk, or your muscles might get tired going up a few flights of stairs.
Strength training can slow or even reverse muscle decline—even for older adults.
Our bones get weaker as we get older, too (especially for women). Osteoporosis and fractures are sadly common. Just one slip on an icy patch of pavement can lead to a hip fracture that causes you pain and reduces your mobility for the rest of your life! Taking care of your bones is non-negotiable.
Strength training both improves bone density, and builds the muscles surrounding your bones. Let’s consider that slip on icy pavement again. If your muscles are strong, they’ll support your weight when you fall, so the impact doesn’t all transfer into your bones. And if your bones are healthy and dense, they’ll be less likely to snap under the impact that does reach them.
How to start (& stay!) moving
Ready to age gracefully? Here are some tips to bring movement and strength training into your daily routine.
Start with small steps
If you’re new to exercise, start with small, manageable steps. Aim to get up and move around for a few minutes every hour, take a daily walk around your neighborhood, or try a beginner’s strength training routine.
Mix it up
Incorporating a variety of activities into your routine can help keep things interesting and keep you from getting bored. Try activities like yoga, swimming, cycling, or dancing to mix things up.
Make it social
Exercising with friends can keep you motivated and make staying fit fun. Consider joining a fitness class, finding a workout buddy, or taking part in a group sport. (Dance or yoga class, anyone?)
Take a class
I know, I’m a fitness instructor… of course I would say that! But it’s true! Taking a class helps you get started with new forms of movement that you might not be familiar with. Your instructor will make sure you’re safe while trying new exercises. And your class will keep you motivated to stick with your routines. Joining a class builds your movement practice into your life, allowing you to see real results as your strength and endurance increase.
The changes you see will have real, measurable benefits for your health—today, tomorrow, and beyond.
Take time to relax
Recovery after exercise is just as important as exercise itself. Take this as your permission to have a nice, warm bath, or get a relaxing massage. Be sure to get enough sleep, eat a nutritious diet, and incorporate activities like stretching and foam rolling into your routine to release tension and prevent injuries.
Move for life, move for love!
We all have to find our “why.” What brings you a sense of purpose? For most of us, it’s family and friends—not only the joy that they bring us, but the joy we can bring to them.
Movement gives you a simple, natural tool for staying healthy while living longer. It’s your ally, helping you be there for those you love, and allowing you to squeeze every drop of happiness out of your one, wild, precious life!
At The Dance Space, we’ll help you find the style of movement that’s right for you. Come visit us and get started with Flex + Flow, Sculpt, Dance Cardio, Bounce, or one of our other dance classes. You’ll be welcome regardless of your experience, and you’ll find a community of friends who challenge you and support your goals!
Dong Hoon Lee, Leandro F.M. Rezende, Hee-Kyung Joh, NaNa Keum, Gerson Ferrari, Juan Pablo Rey-Lopez, Eric B. Rimm, Fred K. Tabung, Edward L. Giovannucci. Long-Term Leisure-Time Physical Activity Intensity and All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort of US Adults. Circulation, 2022; DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.121.058162
Ekelund U, Tarp J, Steene-Johannessen J, Hansen B H, Jefferis B, Fagerland M W et al. Dose-response associations between accelerometry measured physical activity and sedentary time and all cause mortality: systematic review and harmonised meta-analysis BMJ 2019; 366 :l4570 doi:10.1136/bmj.l4570
Reynolds, G. (Sept. 3 2019). For a Longer Life, Get Moving. Even a Little. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/28/well/move/for-a-longer-life-get-moving-even-a-little.html