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Blue zone exercise
July 06, 2020

Blue zone exercise

Greetings from Bernard Preston to this third email about how to create a cyan zone at your home.

In our first letter which you can find in back issues we explained how a Cyan Zone combines the blue issues of longevity with green concerns about the health of the planet.

Today we talk about exercise. There are no gyms in the four blue zones of the world and you won't see people out jogging; yet moderate exercise is an essential part of their lifestyles. They structure their lives in such a way that they keep physically busy.

In our own busy worlds we need to adapt these principles to our own lifestyles if we want to enjoy the benefits of blue zone longevity.

Four kinds of moderate exercise

1. Daily walks, cycling or swimming

General recommendations are that we walk a minimum of three hours a week; you could reconstruct that if you prefer cycling or swimming.

New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association reports that whether we get that in one longer walk of say half an hour, or several shorter bouts of five to ten minutes, it makes no difference[1].

Blue zone people do this naturally by talking a short walk to visit an aging parent who lives nearby, or cycling to the shops for a loaf of bread.

This week friends asked to borrow our truck. I delivered it and walked the two miles home; I could have asked them to take me back. It turned out to be a time of solace; a few moments to pause and reflect on the day.

I have an elderly aunt of ninety-four; several times a week she walks a mile to the public swimming pool, does thirty lengths and saunters home. That is the way those who want to enjoy a long and healthy life choose to do it.

They care for themselves; who else is going to?

Perhaps even more important, a group of scientists analysed the LIFE study data and found that inactive people who started adding just an extra 7 minutes of exercise per day, after two years had reduced the likelihood of disability by a massive 70%.

2. Daily lower back exercises

The lower back causes immense pain and suffering, and even worse, disability, in our modern world. We see it every day in our clinics. The lumbar spine is the third biggest used of medical insurance after cardiovascular and neoplastic disease. The corona virus may change that for a period.

I recommend you structure these lower back exercises into your life every single morning before arising; do them in bed. I do them myself. I never miss since a serious injury to the femoral nerve.

You may need to add in others for a troublesome hip or shoulder for example.

The research points to moderate exercise daily and blue zone people structure their lives accordingly.

Disability is often more frustrating than pain. This week in the practice I had an elderly patient who had been a very active hiker until he hurt his back, radiating down the leg to his foot, nine months ago; the irritation was palpable. I was able to give him a reasonable assurance after examining him and viewing his X-rays that just two minutes of exercises done several times every day would enable him to regain most of the lost ground.

And some treatment, of course. Lower back exercises

Femoral nerve damage

3. Occasional longer exercise

I find it personally helpful to structure at least once a year a longer hike or cycle into my life.

Others find more benefit joining a hiking or cycling club and go out several times a month.

Structure something pleasurable into your life if you want to enjoy that blue zone longevity; it is all about the choices we make.

In Holland where it is mostly flat we enjoyed shorter cycling trips most weekends and at least once a year a longer tour for a week, staying at B&Bs. Vriende op de Fiets (Friends of cyclists) is a wonderful hospitality organisation open to all that makes inexpensive holidays possible. Google them and enjoy the vacation of a lifetime.

That's Maastricht in the background.

Back in native South Africa, where it is much hotter and hillier, and roads are dangerous, we instead go hiking. Plan an annual holiday where you can get moderate exercise every day; choose a fun locale.

4. Moderate exercise in the garden

Interestingly in all four blue zones of the world, folk are gardeners; they enjoy the benefits of their own nutritious food whilst getting moderate exercise.

My philosophy is that I have a lot more to show for it after building a compost pile as compared to pumping iron in the gym, and it is in the great outdoors where there are no viruses lying in wait.

More, gardeners get plenty of sunshine. Researchers have found that those with low vitamin D have twice the likelihood of dying from C-19. Wear a hat to keep the skin cancers at bay.

Making a compost pile

Harvesting the rain

It is not difficult see the synergy between our green zone topic from last week, and those to do with longevity. Harvesting the rain complements gaining moderate exercise in the garden, and growing our own organic food.

These lima beans certainly need water to plump up in the dry season.

Fresh from the garden they are the most delicious food.

Moderate exercise, nutritious food and harvesting the rain together make up essential features of the Cyan Zone; caring for ourselves and the planet.

Take a walk today, long or short; every day if you want to enjoy a long and healthy life.

“It’s important to also consider healthy dietary recommendations along with physical activity for optimal health.”

— Roger A. Fielding, PhD, director of the HNRCA Nutrition, Exercise, Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory


More than a half of those dying from the corona virus have raised blood glucose. Each cell in our bodies has a 'sugar-spike'; the nasty bug has a corresponding spike that makes it easier for it to gain access to our bodies if we have frank diabetes, or even insulin resistance.

There is no better way to lower your blood glucose than to take a short walk after a starchy meal; it may just save your life when the day of reckoning comes, as it seemingly will.

Next week...

More next week about Green Zone people; we have a grave responsibility to hand the pristine world we inherited on to the next generations.


1. Moderate‐to‐Vigorous Physical Activity and All‐Cause Mortality: Do Bouts Matter?
2. Bernard Preston Homepage.
3. Back Issues for Create a Cyan Zone at your home.

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