By Chris Redig, MovNat Master Trainer
What would it take to climb Kilimanjaro with my grandkids? I don’t remember when the question first occurred to me, but it’s indelibly linked to my MovNat practice. Playing like a kid with my kids has been a huge part of my practice. And I can’t wait to take them on some adventures.
But what about adventures with their kids?
It’s so easy to imagine. You’re standing there on the summit surrounded by your kids, grandkids, and panoramic views. So, why not?
I sat down and penciled out the math.
For starters, I probably shouldn’t take small children up a 19,000-foot mountain. That means I’ll need to wait until my late 70’s or early 80’s. Unfortunately, the average American male only gets about 78 years.
I started asking myself, just how much can we control our life expectancy and how much is just genes?
I dove into the research and found encouraging answers. For one thing, genes aren’t destiny. In fact, they play only a modest role in lifespan. So, although you can lose or win the genetic lottery, it’s usually only a modest effect.
Lifestyle, on the other hand, is a major factor. It’s the holy grail of longevity, and it’s completely controllable. For example, researchers from Harvard showed that lifestyle factors could add 12-14 years to your life. It brought participants’ life expectancy to 95 for women and 90 for men.
So what are these factors? How can you get on the mountain (or whatever adventure you have in mind)?
We’ll start by taking a close look at the MovNat lifestyle. From there, we’ll look at the role of MovNat training. And we’ll end with a look at diet.
Longevity and the MovNat Lifestyle
Imagine you’re standing on the summit of Kilimanjaro. You just turned 80. There’s a sharp cold wind in your face. Your granddaughter is grinning from ear to ear, and your son slaps you on the back. You made it to the top. Not only are you long-lived, but you’re still every inch the natural mover.
It isn’t as crazy as it sounds. The oldest person to climb Kilimanjaro was 89-year-old Anne Lorimor from Arizona. The question is how do you do it?
A good place to find answers would be the Blue Zones, where people are ten times more likely to live to 100 than the average American. In these regions, you don’t stop moving just because you’re aging. In these parts of the world, you’ll find people in their 80’s and 90’s living a movement rich life. What’s their secret?
Well, for one thing, they don’t exercise. Good luck finding a gym in the mountains of Sardinia, home to the world’s longest-lived men. Instead, blue zone populations rely on Natural Movement as a lifestyle.
They walk a ton. They walk up and down stairs. They sit on the floor. They fix things, build things, work, ride bikes and play. They get low intensity, highly varied physical activity sprinkled throughout their day. In many ways, it’s the opposite of a typical Western exerciser.
Why is a movement rich lifestyle so effective?
First, this type of movement increases your Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). NEAT is the energy you expend outside of eating, sleeping or training. Increasing your NEAT is associated with longevity; it’s associated with a reduction in all-cause mortality and it helps maintain a normal body weight.
Second, Natural Movement is intrinsically motivating. It promotes autonomy, competence and relatedness. Natural Movement is walking to the store to shop for groceries and the corresponding sense of autonomy and competence. It’s sitting on the floor to play with the kids and the corresponding sense of relatedness. It’s playing soccer with friends, tending your own garden and helping a friend move.
In other words, Natural Movement isn’t exercise for exercise’s sake; it’s movement for life’s sake. Consequently, blue zone populations don’t stop moving when they get older. They’re deeply, intrinsically motivated to continue moving, because it’s a central ingredient in their life.
How can you build more movement into your lifestyle?
First, I’ve found that MovNat training sessions lead to lifestyle changes. Simply setting aside some time to practice getting up and down, crawling, climbing and jumping, radically increases the chances that you’ll use those movements in your daily life.
Second, your environment matters. The Blue Zone populations move because it’s built into their environment. You can create elements of this in your own environment. For example, you could set aside space to play on the floor or spend more time in nature. Think more floor space and less furniture.
Longevity and MovNat Training
For Blue Zone populations, Natural Movement is a way of life. That’s probably not possible for most Westerners. Fortunately, structured training has similarly strong effects on longevity. Moreover, if you want to climb Kilimanjaro in your 80’s, you’ll need loads of strength, movement efficiency, exceptional cardio, thick bones and strong joints. In other words, you’ll need training.
Here are three things to keep in mind.
First, structured MovNat workouts should form the foundation of your training. A consistent MovNat practice increases your use of Natural Movement as a lifestyle, increases your movement skill, and it increases your movement efficiency.
Structured MovNat workouts also meet physical activity guidelines for longevity. For example, Harvard’s massive study found that 30 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity per day massively improved longevity. In fact, when combined with eating well, maintaining a healthy weight, being a non-smoker and drinking responsibly, 30 minutes of physical activity raises your life expectancy by 12-14 years.
Moreover, a MovNat practice directly and uniquely contributes to your longevity. For example, your ability to sit and rise from the floor (MovNat Getups) and your grip strength (climbing and manipulative skills) both correlate with longevity.
Second, your workouts should include plenty of strength training. This includes things like deadlifts, loaded squats, cleans, push presses and all the rest. Lifting heavy things correlates with longevity. It correlates independently of cardiorespiratory fitness, and it is additive to cardiorespiratory fitness.
It increases bone strength and density, which is not a bad idea if you want to be able to climb mountains in your retirement. And when you lift heavy things, it strengthens your connective tissue, which is another good strategy to increase your health span.
As you age, it becomes harder to build and maintain muscle mass, and as you advance in years, your body starts shedding muscle. This is known as sarcopenia. This isn’t good, because as you age, muscle mass correlates with longevity. 1 2
Fortunately, you can build muscle at any age, even your 90’s, and of course, it helps if you enter your golden years with a strong foundation.
Third, Cardiorespiratory Fitness (CRF) correlates with longevity. Running is one of the best-studied and most accessible ways to improve your CRF. And of course, running is a foundational Natural Movement. It looks like you can get the same longevity benefits from walking, but it’s less efficient. You need to walk 3-4 miles to equal one mile of running. Consequently, if you’re looking to save time, and you like running, it’s a pretty good investment. 1
How much is enough? You want 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise every day. Lifting heavy things and MovNat combos have a positive training effect on your cardiorespiratory fitness. So, I like to run on my “rest days.”
Can you run too much? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be easy. There seems to be benefits all the way up to 30 miles of running per week. More importantly, what can you recover from? And are you including plenty of other MovNat training?
If you’re new to natural running, you can read about my own natural runner transformation here: From Broken to Athens – How MovNat Made Me a Barefoot Runner. I made just about every mistake and struggled a fair bit. If you want to skip some of that, check it out.
Longevity and Diet
You’re back on the summit, breathing that fresh mountain air. You’re hungry and pull out a snack. What is it? What do centenarians eat? What kind of food should you eat? Is there a longevity diet?
Diet matters for two reasons. First, it correlates with longevity. Second, it’s crucial for maintaining a healthy body weight, which also correlates with longevity.
Here again, Harvard’s massive study offers insight. Participants, who ate a healthy diet, maintained a healthy body weight, exercised regularly, didn’t smoke and drank responsibly added 12-14 years to their life. And again, that’s a life expectancy of 95 for women and 90 for men.
What if you smoke? Is all lost?
Actually, no. In the study, participants were measured initially at age 50. If you’re living a healthy lifestyle by age 50, you still can hope to achieve similar results. And of course, it’s never too late to improve. Late is always better than never.
Okay, back to diet and body weight. In the study, a healthy diet included eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids and eating less processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat, and sodium. In other words, it meant following general guidelines for a healthy diet.
The study defined a healthy body weight as a normal Body Mass Index (BMI). Normal BMI isn’t very precise, but generally it means maintaining a healthy body composition in accordance with general guidelines.
So far so good, but we can go further. There are many ways to construct a good diet. So, I don’t like diet rules. Instead, I like to think in terms of diet skills and diet principles. Here are two diet principles to improve your health, body weight and longevity.
1) EAT MORE WHOLE FOOD
First, try to eat more whole food and less highly processed food. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It isn’t all or nothing. You can think of it as a spectrum.
At one end of the spectrum, you have chips, cake, soda, most breakfast cereals, candy, white bread and pizza. On the other end of the spectrum, you have steak, turkey, salads, fruit, eggs, chicken, fish and sautéed vegetables.
There are two reasons for this.
First, highly processed food is associated with an overall higher risk of mortality. In other words, eating a lot of ultra-processed food is not a good longevity strategy.
Second, eating a lot of highly processed food can cause you to gain weight. It’s much easier to overeat highly processed food than whole food. Imagine all-you-can-eat pizza versus all-you-can-eat salmon salad.
Moreover, in a recent study, participants who ate mostly ultra-processed food ate 500 more Calories than participants who ate mostly whole food.
How do you know something is a whole food? Well, here are four questions you can ask yourself to decide how processed a meal is.
- Can you recognize where it came from? Generally, you know where nuts, eggs, fish or fruits came from. On the other hand, fish sticks don’t look like fish and French bread doesn’t look like grains.
- Does it have an ingredients label? Fresh whole foods rarely come with a food label. And if they do, you can pronounce everything on the label. Processed foods on the other hand come with long lists of ingredients, and unless you’ve studied chemistry, you probably can’t pronounce most of it.
- Does it rot quickly? Real food doesn’t last. It isn’t loaded with preservatives and industrial food products. Conversely, processed food is designed to last. In other words, humanity will likely live on Twinkies during the zombie apocalypse.
- How many steps did it take to get to you? Whole food is food you can easily picture eating if you were an eighteenth century farmer. It’s simple. In contrast, the production of most processed food is difficult to untangle with many steps. For example, how exactly do you make margarine?
2) Eat More Plants
One thing almost all nutritionists agree on is the health, weight loss and longevity benefits of plants. Eating plants is common among all the Blue Zone populations.
Moreover, a meta-analysis has shown dose response improvements to health and longevity all the way up to 800 grams per day in sedentary individuals (i.e. about 8-9 cups of fruits and veggies).
A meta-analysis is a study of studies, and this meta-analysis included 95 studies on eating plants. The study looked at risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and all-cause mortality. They found that eating more plants correlates with longevity. Moreover, it was dose responsive. This means that you derive additional benefits as you increase your consumption of plants all the way up to 800 grams per day.
Consequently, it’s a good idea to include a sizable portion of plants at most meals.
Pro Tip: To get the full benefits, aim to eat green, red, orange, white, purple and blue plants. Plants are anti-inflammatory and loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals with specific colors representing specific phytonutrients. If you want to enhance your performance or recovery, give it a try.
Becoming an ageless natural mover
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” – Henry Ford
What’s your longevity goal? Is it summiting a mountain in Africa? Or, is it SCUBA diving in Mexico? The challenge isn’t important.
Being an example for your family is important. Being with your family is important. And knowing that you can achieve the outcome is important.
So, yes, living into your 90’s and staying active and fit is achievable. It can be done, and that is an inspiring vision.
About the Author
Chris Redig is an online fitness and nutrition coach with a passion for helping adventure-lovers get strong, move confidently and eat well. He’s a MovNat Master Trainer, Henselmans Personal Trainer, and Precision Nutrition Coach. You can connect with him at Adventure Driven Fitness. Chris currently lives in Denmark with his wife and two kids.
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