Let’s pretend that you’re at a drugstore of the future. You consult with the pharmacist, who gives you a choice between two pills. You point to the first and ask what it does.
The pharmacist ticks the benefits off on her fingers. “Lowers your blood pressure, stabilizes your insulin levels, improves your mood, fights osteoporosis, and cuts your risk of stroke and heart disease. Unfortunately, its side effects include insomnia, skin rash, heart problems, nausea, gas, diarrhea, weight gain, and lots of others.”
“Hmmm,” you say. “How about the second pill? What does it do?”
“Oh, it’s got the same benefits,” the pharmacist says brightly.
“And the side effects? you ask.
She beams. “There aren’t any.”
The first pill is imaginary, a fantasy synthesis of beta-blockers to control high blood pressure, statins to reduce cholesterol, diabetes drugs to regulate insulin, antidepressants, and osteoporosis medications.
The second pill is real, sort of. It’s called exercise.
(The Telomere Effect, Elizabeth Blackburn, p. 174)
Properly done to avoid depletion and injury, exercise is one of the best things you can do for your long-term health. Early humans developed in almost continuous motion, hunting and gathering food, walking vast distances daily. Only recently have we become physically idle.
All exercise increases blood flow and oxygen levels. Increased oxygen to the brain is associated with improved cognitive function. Exercise rids the body of stress chemicals, and boosts brainpower. It cuts the risk of dementia in half.
- Exercise daily, but not necessarily vigorously—at least 30 minutes, out in natural light and fresh air when feasible.
- Power walking, swinging light weights in your hands to involve your upper body, is a great way to get exercise. Human brains evolved as we walked great distances, especially outside and on uneven ground, and it remains the best all-round exercise.
- Gentle yoga, Feldenkrais, Qi Gong—explore to find the ones that work best for you.
- Any exercise that makes you feel light—that’s the right one for you.
- Avoid exercise that depletes you, which is bad for your immune system.