I often get asked about things that help someone live longer. Although there are many factors, including your general health, the overall health and strength of your heart is a good indicator for what your life expectancy might be. To strengthen your heart and increase your lifespan, you’ll want to do at least 1 of, what I call, “The Magic 5” type of exercises a few times a week. Let me tell you about them…
The Magic 5 Types of Exercise That Help You Live Longer
Healthy cholesterol levels, as well as chemical inflammation markers in your blood tests, are good indicators of your overall heart health. They can give your doctor a pretty good picture of what your general life expectancy might be. Yet, another less talked about factor is the actual physical strength and stamina of your cardiac muscle itself.
Is it strong and able to withstand sudden jolts from physical and emotional stressors? Do you get a little (or a lot) short of breath with your heart racing when you exert yourself, get angry or upset? If so, you’ll want to do you and your heart a big favor by adding 20-30 minutes, a few times a week, of “lifespan extending” exercise to your routine.
1. Stair climbing. If you’re still working and you work in a building with several floors, make use of the stairwell a few times a day. It helps build cardiorespiratory stamina. Your heart muscle weakens without adequate oxygen and harder aerobic exercise, such as stair climbing, can build your heart/lung capacity faster. A study out of Switzerland a few years back showed that people who stopped using escalators and elevators during their day cut their risk of dying prematurely by 15%.
Another Harvard University study showed that climbing 35 flights or more flights of stairs a week increased lifespan significantly. But even if you’re not working, and you have a flight of stairs in your home, take a 5-10 minute “stair run” break by walking/jogging up and down the stairs a few times. You can also use a stair stepper at the gym. Set it for 10-15 flights of stairs at moderate intensity and notice the effect on your lungs/heartbeat.
2. Running/Sprinting. Doing fast “sprint” runs a few times a week helps your heart muscle strengthen against sudden jolts of exertion and/or stress. I personally think these are easier to do on a stationary treadmill, but if you want to do them outside, or in a gym with a stopwatch, that’s fine too. To start, set your timer for 60 seconds and run/spring as fast as you can. Then stop. Rest for 120 seconds, and then repeat. Do for a set of 6 to start for 2 weeks, and then start increasing in intensity. On a treadmill, set the resistance a little higher each time. This will build cardiac stamina.
3. Cycling/spinning. Riding your bicycle outdoors in beautiful weather is a great way to relax. But, unless you’ve got the gears/resistance set higher, and you’re continuously pedaling at a faster speed, or hill climbing, you’ll burn some calories but you won’t do much to strengthen your heart. If you choose to use a “spin cycle” like those at the gym, warm up for 10 minutes doing moderately fast cycling, and then do 1-2 minute interval very fast/higher resistance spins, repeating a set of 5 to start.
4. Swimming. Likewise, lolling around leisurely in a pool won’t do a lot for your cardiac stamina/lifespan either. You have to actually swim. Start with laps, 10 back and forth, depending on the length of the pool, and then increase to 20. If the pool you use has a “resistance river” in it, try walking against the flow a few times, and then running several laps with the flow.
If there is no resistance river, go to the shallow, 3 foot end, and jog back and forth across it 10-20 times. The water takes the impact of your knees and allows you to still get the benefit of running. Get some pool shoes if the bottom is rough.
5. Faster walking. Just taking a walk around your city, subdivision, on the bike trail, helps build strength and endurance in your heart function. But you have to step up the pace some to a moderately fast walk, about the pace of jogging, but still walking. This takes the impact off your knees but keeps your lungs taking in oxygen rapidly, burning fat, and works your heart muscle.
Now, you have to put at least a little bit of time into doing these types of exercise each week – but you don’t have to become an athlete. Exercise researchers publishing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine say that 150 minutes a week – that’s 30 minutes 5 times a week – will extend your life by at least 5 years.
Yet, on the days you can only find 10-20 minutes, I’ll take that too – moving quickly for less time is much better than sitting for a longer time. Researchers now say that sitting for more than a few hours at a time, per day, can decrease your lifespan as well as decrease your metabolism and increase your weight.
If you sit at a desk several hours a day, get up every 50 minutes for a 10 minute “movement” break. Take a run/walk up that flight of stairs in your building, take a brisk walk around the grounds (if possible), do jumping jacks, run in place, jump rope, turn on some music and dance, put a rebounder in your office, etc. Suggest to your boss, or supervisor that 10 minute exercise breaks throughout the day really boosts productivity as well as employee health.
Ron Blankstein, M.D.