You probably already know that movement is important to your health, but you may not know just how important. A single bout of exercise can improve sleep, reduce blood pressure, and optimize metabolism. And if you exercise consistently, even better. Research demonstrates that individuals who regularly meet minimum physical activity guidelines — about 25 minutes per day — reduce their all-cause mortality risk by up to 50%.
Those are huge benefits, yet more than a quarter of adults around the world are failing to meet this minimum. For the sake of living longer and better, you don’t want to be part of that statistic. To get the basics on healthy movement and see how you can reach your full longevity potential, keep reading!
What Is Healthy Movement?
At its simplest, healthy movement means engaging in activities that elevate your breathing rate and get you sweating. The actual activities in question are entirely up to you.
To get a little more specific, according to the physical activity guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, every adult should strive for at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity each week. But, instead of fixating on the “150 minutes” part, focus on the “at least” part instead. One study of over 7,000 adults found that obesity and related disease risk markers were virtually absent when people engaged in >250 minutes of weekly movement.
The 3 Key Principles of Healthy Movement
Of course, there are lots of ways to move your body. We’re going to be breaking down the “best” types of movement, plus a bonus one if you’re feeling adventurous.
- Unstructured physical activity for optimal health.
- Zone 2 exercise for metabolic health and flexibility.
- Resistance training to build muscle mass and protect against aging.
#1. Unstructured Physical Activity
Perhaps surprisingly, research indicates that you do not need to go to the gym or train for hours on end to maximize your health and longevity potential. You just need to move your body consistently throughout the day, most days.
We know that too little activity is risky — the negative side effects of a sedentary lifestyle on your longevity actually resemble those of smoking. We also know that there is a simple linear relationship between physical activity and longevity: The more unstructured physical activity (a.k.a. non-exercise physical activity) you do, the better your health and lower your all-cause mortality risk will be.
Unfortunately, modern conveniences often steal precious opportunities for movement. Don’t let that happen! Even if you’re not an avid exerciser, there are still plenty of ways to incorporate unstructured physical activity into your life. Walking, running, mowing the grass, shoveling, playing catch with your kids or grandkids, and even running after your dog all count towards your daily recommendation of 45–60 minutes.
#2. Zone 2 Exercise
Over 90% of adults struggle with their metabolic health, and movement is the best tool to combat this worrying number. Zone 2 exercise in particular is incredibly effective at improving your metabolic health and extending your longevity. You can get to zone 2 by partaking in simple activities such as jogging, hiking, or cycling, where you can carry a conversation while still getting your breathing rate up.
During zone 2 exercise, your cells achieve peak fat burning, which enhances your overall metabolic flexibility. (In fact, pairing zone 2 exercise with fasting will elevate fat burning even further!) Zone 2 exercise also helps improve your mitochondrial health, which in turn helps your body produce energy more efficiently, regulate inflammation, and prevent age-related chronic diseases. Work towards getting 45 minutes of zone 2 exercise 4–5 days per week.
#3. Resistance Training
Generally speaking, your muscles follow the adage “use it or lose it.” In particular, after you turn 30, your skeletal muscle mass and strength decline at about 3–8% per decade, with atrophy accelerating even more after you turn 60.
Fortunately, you can decelerate this inevitable decline. A good old-fashioned weight lifting habit will do the trick — aim for 2–3 sessions per week for a total of 120 minutes. But if lifting heavy isn’t your thing, you can still reap the same benefits through bodyweight exercises (look at gymnasts!), manually intensive tasks, and/or lifting and carrying heavier objects.
Bonus: High-Intensity Exercise
High-intensity exercise, at >80% of your maximum heart rate, uses muscle activation to burn up excess insulin-independent glucose. This benefits your body in two major ways: It keeps blood glucose from becoming unnecessarily high, and it reduces reliance on insulin to correct (or overcorrect) glucose spikes.
Unlike the types of movement detailed above, high-intensity exercise generally requires more focus and motivation and does not allow for continuous multitasking. To build up your proficiency, start with work-to-rest ratios that favor more rest, like a 1:2 ratio of 30 seconds of work and 60 seconds of rest. Eventually, you may find that you’re able to reduce rest intervals to a 1:1 or even 2:1 ratio.
If you want to spice up your movement routine, you can choose to add a brief, high-intensity burst of exercise at the end of your zone 2 workout, or swap one of your resistance training days with a HIIT session.
How to Start Building Healthy Movement Habits
- Begin with movement that you enjoy, and try to do at least 150 minutes of it every week.
- Look for opportunities to engage in unstructured physical activity as often as you can, striving for 45–60 minutes of it per day.
- Enlist your loved ones to keep you company on your movement journey.
- Commit to a 45-minute session of zone 2 exercise 4–5 days per week.
- Embrace variety. Routines are great until they’re boring, so make sure you’re mixing up your movement habits to keep them sustainable.
- Prioritize resistance exercise 2–3 days a week for a total of 120 minutes to build healthy, strong muscle mass.
- If you’re feeling adventurous, switch up your resistance training routine with a HIIT session.
- Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress. Rigid habits break quickly, so stay flexible in order to keep moving on the path towards better health and longevity.
Healthy movement is one of the best investments you can make to live longer and better. And while there may be conflicting information on what kind of exercise is ideal for your overall health, integrating the key principles of a healthy movement routine — unstructured physical activity, zone 2 exercise, and resistance training — will set you up for success now and in the long-run.
But wait, there’s more! As you set forth new movement habits, consider expanding your breadth of knowledge with these resources.
- Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Fat Burning - November 6, 2023
- How to Maximize Weight Loss and Fat Burning During Your Fast - October 30, 2023
- Expert Insights from Sofia Cienfuegos, PhD, RD: Intermittent Fasting, Weight Loss, and PCOS - October 23, 2023