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What Type of Exercise is Most Effective for Optimal Health and Longevity?

Optimal Health. A Lesson from Centenarians. In Okinawa, I heard stories of fishermen who never retire, and I watched a woman in her nineties dance with a large bottle on her head, something she did many times a week. When she wasn’t dancing, she enjoyed playing traditional Japanese musical instruments. In Calabria, 110-year-old Salvatore Caruso told me how he walked every day to the olive (olive grove) and how much labor his olive trees required. In Loma Linda, the very long-lived Seventh-day Adventists are famous for their high levels of exercise, including walking fast and going to the gym.

Optimal Health. When Dan Buettner asked very long-lived Costa Ricans to share the secret to their longevity, they said they enjoyed doing physical work all their lives. When I posed the same question to the shepherds of towns with famously long-lived populations in Sardinia, they told me that every year they leave their homes around November so they can walk their sheep to lower elevations and warmer areas, where the animals can find food, and they don’t return until April or May.

What Type of Exercise is Most Effective for Optimal Health and Longevity?

The one you enjoy most, but also the one you can easily incorporate into your daily schedule and the one you can keep doing up to your hundredth birthday and beyond. Many Okinawans practice martial arts, especially a dance-inspired version of tai chi. The type of exercise you choose isn’t important. What’s important is working all your body parts with rigor — meaning to the point of breathing rapidly or sweating — and being consistent!

I’m not talking about running weekly marathons. Overworking your body is not a good idea. If you think about a car, why is it that no one wants to buy a 5-year-old car with one hundred thousand miles on the odometer? Because despite being relatively new, it has been driven too much. You can replace the tires and repaint the chassis, but you cannot change every belt, hose, and valve, and there’s a high chance that some overworked components will break down. On the other hand, you don’t want to leave your car parked in the garage most of the time, as this will also eventually cause it to break down.

The same holds true for the human body. It’s important to exercise, but not to overexercise because knees, hips, and joints will eventually get damaged — particularly if you continue to exercise when you feel pain. On the bright side, certain exercises and diets can cause the tissue to self-repair and regenerate, so the human body has built-in advantages over a car. optimal health

Use your muscles.

Humans evolved as a species that walks, runs, climbs trees and hills, and uses a variety of muscles all the time. Now people use elevators and escalators instead of stairs, drive instead of walk, use dishwashers and washing machines instead of washing dishes and clothes by hand, buy food instead of growing it, and hire people to do even minor repair work around the house instead of fixing things ourselves.

Every muscle of the body needs to be used frequently because muscles grow and maintain or gain strength only in response to being challenged. Climbing six flights of stairs rapidly can cause leg pain, especially if you haven’t done it in a long time. That pain is evidence of minor injury to your muscles. In the presence of sufficient amounts of proteins, muscle injury leads to the activation of “muscle satellite cells” and, eventually, to muscle growth. Muscles can be slightly injured and rebuilt by doing simple everyday tasks that are challenging. Of course, a minor injury can turn into a major injury if the burden of weight-bearing exercise is too high or if you keep re-injuring already inflamed muscle or cartilage. Muscle training must be balanced to avoid both acute injuries and the slow, chronic damage that comes with ignoring pain and continuing to put stress on an injured joint.



One can do resistance training every day. There are over 600 muscles in the human body and it would be impossible to train them all in one session. … Resistance exercises can use either your own body weight, free weights, machines, or rubber bands as long as you use them with the right intensity and frequency. Research has proven that resistance band exercises grow your muscles and tone them at the same time. Toning your muscles is simply the process of losing body fat so that muscles appear on the surface of your skin. By incorporating a high-intensity approach has been shown to burn fat, and the constant muscular tension the band demands means you‘ll also get a good muscular pump, which is important for making new muscle tissue grow.


Partially Reprinted from THE LONGEVITY DIET by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2018, Valter Longo. Dr. Valter Longo is the Edna M. Jones Professor of Gerontology and Biological Sciences, and director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California – Davis School of Gerontology, Los Angeles, where his studies focus on the fundamental mechanisms of aging. This is adapted from Dr. Longo’s newest book, The Longevity Diet, and takes a look at what exercise is best for longevity and how to get the most for your muscles.
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