What if you didn’t have to pay for a costly gym membership or log miles on a treadmill in order to be in the best shape of your life?
If you take a page from the those living in the world’s Blue Zones – the cities in the world with the highest life expectancy – then it’s possible.
Instead of pumping iron, the people who live in these places, including Okinawa, Japan, and the Italian island of Sardinia, rely on their natural movement, like walking and hiking, to improve their physical health.
Dan Buettner, the author, educator and explorer who discovered the Blue Zones and coined the term, said in 2016, "If you look at how humans have evolved over time they didn’t sit down at a desk or on their couch for eight hours and then hope to make it up for a half hour or 45 minutes in the gym," adding that the Blue Zones environments helped nudge its inhabitants into moving every 20 minutes or so.
When it comes to those enduring sweat sessions, Buettner said, "Unfortunately, I think exercise and fitness have us trying to solve the right problem but in the wrong way. The wrong way is thinking that I’m going to work out super hard on the weekend, run a marathon, or pump iron for an hour and I get all the exercise I need. That’s not the way our bodies were built."
While Buettner said we shouldn't skip out on gym workouts altogether, he said we should view exercise as "recreation" rather than making it the prime source of our physical fitness and health.
So how do we incorporate moving naturally into our lives, while still keeping our desk jobs?
Buettner told NBC News last month that it's simple: walking.
He recommends taking public transportation and adopting a dog to encourage more walking in your everyday life.
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“Adopting a dog is really the best Blue Zone strategies there is,” Buettner told NBC News. “It’s that perfect nudge to get you walking every day.”
Multiple studies confirm the benefits of walking. According to Harvard Medical School, researchers "found that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31% and cut the risk of dying by 32%."
Additionally, walking reduce the risk of high cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and mental stress, and is said to help protect against cancer, depression, and dementia.
Owning a pooch also has its own array of health benefits. A 2017 Chinese study found a link between dog ownership and reduced risk of coronary artery disease, and other research has shown that dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression.
Ultimately, our bodies were designed to naturally move. If we're able to integrate inherent movement, like walking and hiking, into our lives, along with a furry friend, we'll achieve a level of optimal health that not even 30 minutes of HIIT can provide.
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