Residents of Blue Zones, areas where people live the longest, rarely go to the gym.
They get the benefits of exercise unintentionally through walking, dancing, and socializing.
Making fitness social and enjoyable can help you stick to it for a long-term health boost.
You don't need a fancy fitness studio, or even any workout equipment at all, to live a long, healthy life.
Some of the longest-living people in the world, known as Super Agers, have managed to get the benefits of exercise without ever setting foot in a gym, according to an upcoming docuseries called "Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones," premiering August 30 on Netflix.
The Blue Zones are areas of the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives, such as regions of Italy, Greece, Japan, and Costa Rica.
National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner, star of the docuseries, told Insider's Hilary Brueck that most of us have the wrong idea by cramming our exercise into a few gym sessions a week.
"America's approach to regular physical activity has been going to the gym or, you know, I'm gonna get hyped up and do a triathlon or a 5K run, or a CrossFit, or yoga. And those work for a single digit percentage of people for long enough," he said. "They fail for almost all the people, almost all the time."
Simple activities like walking, climbing stairs, and dancing keep the Blue Zones' Super Agers strong, vital, and healthy into their 80s, 90s, and even past 100 years old.
Walking is one of the simplest ways to improve your health
Walking is a natural part of daily life for many residents of Blue Zones. In places like Singapore where using a car is expensive, it's easy for people to rack up more than 10,000 steps a day, which is about four miles or an hour and a half of walking.
"They don't even know it, but they're exercising. They're moving naturally all day long," Buettner said.
For those of us who spend most of the day moving from our cars to our desks to the couch, it may seem like a lot. But thankfully, you don't have to sell your car or move to another country to get the benefits of walking.
Research shows that adding just a thousand more steps to your day can stave off early death and illnesses such as heart disease.
Taking the stairs adds the benefits of high-intensity exercise
Going for an easy walk is a science-backed way to add some years to your life, but many Blue Zones residents take it a step further — literally.
High elevations in Blue Zones like Sardinia, Italy have been linked to longer lifespans, in part because the people there routinely walk up and down stairs or hills as part of their daily routines.
"If we want to live longer, instead of paying for an expensive gym membership, maybe start by skipping the elevator and taking the stairs," Buettner said.
A recent study found that doing one minute of exercise that raises your heart rate, like climbing the stairs or carrying groceries, can reduce the risk of early death if you do it a few times a day.
That's a major boost for longevity in significantly less time (and sweat) than it would take to complete a HIIT class.
Playing a group sport can help you be consistent with exercise
A major downfall of many workout routines is that people may try them for a while, but don't stick to them long term, according to Buettner.
"In the United States we spend billions on gym memberships that go largely unused. We're well-intentioned, we just can't seem to keep exercise routines going long enough to make a difference," he said.
Residents of another Blue Zone, the city of Loma Linda in California, have found a solution in making exercise a community event, whether they're meeting up on the pickleball court or at the swimming pool.
Research suggests that finding a workout buddy is one of the best ways to stay motivated to exercise for the long haul, according to Harvard paleoanthropologist Daniel Lieberman.
Making exercise social helps hold you accountable, promotes social bonding, and increases your odds of being consistent, he said. That's true whether you're signing up for your local rec center kickball tournament, or just walking in the park with a friend.
Dancing is a fun, social way to boost heart health
Combining some of the best of the Blue Zones fitness strategies like being social and finding unintentional ways to get moving, a region in Greece called Ikaria demonstrates how to make partying a workout.
People in the area hold traditional events called panegyris that last for hours.
"They are dancing all night long. And you might say 'big deal, they're at a party,'" Buettner said. "Actually, an hour of running or an hour of dancing are about equal when it comes to caloric burn. But an hour of dancing is a blast."
At the same time, the dancers are also socializing, appreciating music, and yes, enjoying wine — also linked to potential longevity benefits.
This Greek approach to activity highlights how too many of us associate exercise with suffering, in contrast to people in Blue Zones who find ways to make it an enjoyable and consistent part of everyday life, according to Buettner.
"We're learning that physical activity can be joyful," he said.
Read the original article on Insider