Has your doctor ever advised you to “take the stairs” to become more physically fit? She’s probably onto something.
National Geographic fellow, author and researcher Dan Buettner studies the habits of people around the world living in hot-spots of human longevity, or so-called “Blue Zones.”
Unsurprisingly, he has found that people in long-lived populations tend to stay physically active. Yet most of the individuals Buettner interviews do not perform intentional exercise for the sake of fitness; rather, they live in a way that encourages gentle activity continually throughout the day.
Buettner’s findings can inform our own habits and shape the way we think about fitness and health, whether or not we enjoy a structured exercise routine.
In fact, a day with “no time for exercise” can be one of the best times to use natural movement to strengthen your muscles, hone your balance and exercise your cardiovascular system. Try a few from this list:
Cook with heavy pots and pans.
Haul out your mom’s old cast iron skillet, and feel the muscles in your arms work as you lift it, swirl it and reach out to put it in the oven. Bonus: frittata.
Tend a garden or do yard work.
Buettner noticed that many centenarians in his studies tended gardens, and he speculated that the physical work of caring for plants might be the reason. Crouching, digging, picking and weeding helps improve balance and strength.
Shop with a hand basket.
Pushing a shopping cart can sometimes turn into leaning on a cart. Grab a hand basket and your grocery run can double as gentle weight training.
Housework might make you groan a little less if you think of it as a way to move naturally: lift laundry baskets piled high with fresh towels, and scrub the grease off a cookie sheet knowing that those actions count.
Dance in your living room.
You can enjoy a real cardio workout simply moving joyfully to music. Don’t worry about whether you’re a good dancer or not. Just shake!
Play with your kids, grandkids or pets.
Work up a light sweat giving chase to your kids, grandkids or pup. Or lift them up for a big squeeze. Even sitting on the floor encourages movement: Beuttner notes that long-lived Okinawans sit and stand from the floor 30-40 times in a day.
Park at a distance.
Instead of circling the parking lot looking for the empty spot closest to your destination, park all the way in the back, and walk briskly to the entrance. Even better: walk or bike the whole way there.
Stretch upon waking.
No organized yoga moves required! Stretching your muscles as you get out of bed jump-starts circulation and primes your nervous system for regular movement throughout the day.
One of the great benefits of natural movement is finding ways it fits into your own personal lifestyle. So use this list as a jumping-off point; then consider what your day really looks like, and add natural movement where it fits best.