We spend nearly 30 billion dollars a year¹ on gym memberships, much of which goes unused. There’s a pang of collective guilt that weighs on those of us who don’t make it to the gym regularly, a feeling that we’re not well.
We often think of our health as inexorably tied to how many gym hours we can rack up. When we look at photos of marathon runners and championship weightlifters, we see them as the peak of wellness. Yet this isn’t necessarily true.
If you measure health in terms of lifespan, then the world’s best athletes and gym connoisseurs are not usually at the top of the list. The oldest living person, Kane Tanaka², is 116 years old and never made a habit of working out. She enjoys the occasional sweet and has never run a marathon in her life. Yet, she remains in good health, both mentally and physically.
Kane is no outlier. Her profile is very similar to the long list of supercentenarians (people who have reached age 110). It seems that the key to a long, healthy life isn’t tied to a treadmill.
Humans are meant to move, and sedentary lifestyles are a leading cause of obesity and other health problems. The World Health Organization attributes millions ofdeaths a year³ to physical inactivity.
The number of sedentary jobs has increased dramatically in the last few decades. The New York Times reports that jobs requiring moderate activity have plummeted to just 20percent⁴ of total employment options. This drop has coincided with the rise of obesity in many countries. The message is clear: a lack of movement is contributing to our declining health.
The good news is that you don’t have to spend hours on an elliptical to boost your health. Instead, incorporating moderate movement into your daily routine seems to be just as effective, if not more so.
The most helpful form of activity is walking. Walking not only burns calories but also strengthens your immune system, eases joint pain, lowers blood sugar, and improves your mood. Adding thirty minutes of walking to your day can have a significant effect on your health and lifespan. It can seem arduous with how much time many of us are required to spend at a desk, but there are easy ways to sneak some walking into your daily routine.
● Park at the back of parking lots
● Walk your lunch out of the office to eat
● Add walking to your daily commute
● Do housework regularly
Walking also lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death worldwide.⁵ Our hearts are healthier when we stay mobile, lowering the risk of stroke and embolisms.
Gyms can be intimidating. The atmosphere at many gyms is not ideal for everyone, especially people who dislike being on display. Many gyms cultivate an atmosphere of intimidation, which can put off people only looking for moderate exercise. A brisk walk around the block, on the other hand, is convenient and easy.
There’s also the issue of money. Gym memberships are expensive, and purchasing the workout equipment for your own home can be even worse. A walk through the park, however, is entirely free. So don’t let the massive barrier to entry at a gym turn you off exercise completely. The reality is you don’t need to spend hours sweating and panting when a few calm walks a week can get the job done.
One of the reasons why so many gym memberships go unused is because of the extra effort. It’s hard to keep up with a gym regimen, and many people don’t bother. Yet more and more, we see the benefit of smaller amounts of regular exercise. The person who walks half an hour each day may be getting more benefits than those who suffer through an extreme workout once a week.
Find the spaces in your schedule where you can fit some moderate activity. Take up hobbies like gardening, sightseeing or birdwatching, anything that gets you moving. When exercise is part of an enjoyable activity, we’re more likely to maintain a consistent level of exercise.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that an occasional walk is enough to compensate for other unhealthy habits. It would help if you still made an effort to eat a balanced diet and avoid dangerous habits like smoking. The takeaway is this: don’t stress yourself with insanely restrictive diets and hours of daily gym time. You can achieve overall wellness of mind and body with movement and moderation.